The vision for Amazon at Suffolk Downs

Developer says approach won’t change if tech giant goes elsewhere

THE DEVELOPER OF SUFFOLK DOWNS said his company’s vision for the 161-acre property matches almost exactly what Amazon is looking for in a second headquarters, and he insists that vision won’t change much if the tech giant ends up going somewhere else.

Thomas O’Brien, the president of HYM Investment Group, said his company bought the property in May for $155 million with the idea of turning it into a mixed-use residential, commercial, and retail project. Amazon released its HQ2 request for proposals on September 7, and Boston on Thursday issued its 218-page response along with two slick videos (see here and here).

The Boston proposal lists what financial incentives might be available to Amazon, but doesn’t specify what the city and state are likely to offer – that’s left for later conversations. The proposal addresses how Boston meets each of Amazon’s priorities; includes 47 pages of testimonials from local politicians, college presidents, and business leaders; and provides cover letters from Mayor Marty Walsh, Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, and Gov. Charlie Baker.  “You have my personal commitment to marshal all of what Massachusetts has to offer for your consideration,” Baker said in his letter.

What’s most startling about the proposal is how it lays out in remarkable detail what the Amazon campus at Suffolk Downs might look like. It seemed like an amazingly quick turnaround for a property purchased in May, but O’Brien said his company has been working on a design for the site for close to a year.

Amazon wants 8 million square feet of commercial office space, with a 500,000-square-foot phase one  ready in 2019. O’Brien said the Suffolk Downs site can easily accommodate the 8 million square feet of commercial office space, and he said HYM can complete phase one adjacent to either of the two Blue Line stops that abut the property by December 2019. To meet that timeline, O’Brien said, Amazon would have to select Boston’s proposal during the first three months of 2018.

O’Brien also envisions 10,000 housing units, 550,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, 1,500 hotel rooms, and 40 acres of public space on the property. O’Brien said all of the elements would remain whether Amazon moves in or not. “We’ll do this with or without Amazon,” he said.

The housing will be a combination of apartments, condominiums, town houses, and senior housing. The open space would include a 17-acre public common, an outdoor performance theater, play fields, and playgrounds. “We want this to be a true community,” he said.

Boston’s proposal plays up the site’s access to the Suffolk Downs and Beachmont stops on the Blue Line, but it also suggests other transportation projects could come online if Amazon moves to the area. For example, the proposal says the Blue Line could be extended from Bowdoin to the Red Line at Charles/MGH, making it possible for Amazon employees to visit Cambridge more quickly on the subway. The proposal also raises the possibility of a commuter rail station adjacent to the Wonderland stop on the Blue Line so people could catch a ride to North Station on the commuter rail or head north along  the Newburyport and Rockport Lines. The proposal also said the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit line could be extended to Suffolk Downs, along with the addition of bus shuttles and water transport.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Boston’s proposal predictably emphasizes the positive, but sometimes it gets carried away. It suggests someone could travel from the proposed Amazon site to the airport in 5 minutes, make it to the Seaport District in 12 minutes, or arrive at Harvard University in 20 minutes. The map showing all the MBTA connections to the site is also a bit off, putting Park Street Station at the intersection of the Blue and Green Lines rather than Government Center Station.

O’Brien said Amazon officials are familiar with the Boston area, but they may be surprised to learn that a property that meets their needs is so readily available. He said he liked Boston’s chances. “I think we compete pretty well,” he said.