USQ Developer Research: Lakeshore East and University Village

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After a long delay trying to get to Chicago, we finally made it! Remember to ask questions and leave comments below, and check in on Twitter at @SomerByDesign and #USQdev.

The team from US2 (a partnership between Magellan Development and Mesirow Financial) took us on a whirlwind tour of projects that included Lakeshore East and University Village in Chicago. The development projects are incredibly different: Lakeshore East features a mix of mid- and high-rise buildings surrounding a massive public park, whereas University Village is a smaller-scale infill development that preserved many of the buildings along historic Maxwell Street.

The US2 team was well-prepared. Understanding their disadvantage as an “outsider,” this team from Chicago has compiled representatives who have been on the ground in Somerville, conducting outreach to community residents and business owners. Their goal is to immerse themselves in Union Square and understand what makes it unique and what components are vital to the community’s soul.

A few things stood out about US2:

Commitment to community engagement:

The Lakeshore East project involved more than 150 stakeholder meetings with hundreds of residents participating. Together, Magellan and residents came to an agreement about building heights and design that allowed for taller buildings where appropriate, and scaled back mid-rise condominiums along the southern edge so as not to impact surrounding neighborhoods. Developers also found creative solutions to deal with challenging infrastructure impediments; initially they faced $100 million in infrastructure costs, which were subsequently reduced to $17 million and allowed the project to move forward. US2 has already been on the ground meeting with community groups and residents in Union Square; they acknowledged that if selected, the next critical steps will be to sit down with the MBTA about station design and to meet with local property owners to discuss opportunities to collaborate.

Approach to housing development:

At Lakeshore East which is located just two blocks from downtown Chicago, the economy could support high-rise buildings. But in other areas, such as University Village, Magellan has experience building a mix of low- and mid-scale residential units that include both condominiums and apartments. They frequently build 3- and 4-bedroom units in order to attract and retain families, something Somerville recognizes as a priority. Developers also limit the purchase of condo units to one unit per person to prevent speculators and investors from stockpiling units and driving up rents. Finally, US2 has created a second mortgage program in which they provide gap financing for buyers that cannot qualify for traditional mortgages. This unique program, which provides forgivable loans, makes purchasing a home more affordable for local residents.

Cultivation of a knowledge economy:

In its research, US2 has found that for every one innovation job added to Somerville’s economy, five additional jobs are created. As such, it’s important to create spaces for knowledge workers, innovators and makers – particularly those in the startup and early stages of growth. US2 envisions a space in the heart of Union Square, such as a Workbar Somerville, that will put a stake in the ground and foster job creation. As these companies grow and as development in Union Square continues to move forward, US2 envisions larger spaces being built in the Boynton Yards area that will serve to create jobs at scale.

Historic preservation and infill development:

The University Village area had long suffered from disinvestment. But rather than tearing buildings down and starting with a blank canvas, US2 redeveloped many of the historic buildings – several of which had been there for more than 120 years. This preservation, combined with strategic new infill projects, has created a vibrant, mixed-use community with loads of character and charm.

While US2 is a Chicago-based firm, it’s clear that they have done their research to learn about the Union Square community—and it’s only just the beginning! We were excited to hear about some of the fresh ideas they’d like to bring to Somerville.

Today we’re in Portland, Oregon to see a few of Gerdling Eden’s development projects. Engage in the dialogue by asking questions and leaving comments below. Also be sure to check in on Twitter at @SomerByDesign and #USQdev.


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