New Hotels Clear First Hurdle

The Planning Board this past week gave a go ahead for the development of two new hotels in Chelsea.  Although action is still required by the Zoning and Economic Development Boards, City Manager Jay Ash remains quite optimistic that construction will begin as early as the fall on the combined $40 million investment being proposed by the hotel group that has already developed the Residence Inn on Beech Street.

“We’re on an aggressive timetable, and there’s much work to be done, but we’re very close to being at the point where we can announce a definitive timetable for the construction of the hotels,” said City Manager Jay Ash.  “There’s a window of opportunity for us to attract two more terrific developments here, so everyone in City government is contributing to the process of putting us in the best position to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Ash, who has been the chief architect behind the City’s strategy that has already resulted in the development of the Residence Inn and Wyndham Hotels, disclosed last month that the City had struck an agreement in principal with the group that developed that Residence Inn to develop two additional hotels in the city.

The proposed, 140-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott is targeted for land that has been vacant for decades on the corner of Central and Eastern Avenues. The proposed 152-room Holiday Inn, which will also contain a full function facility, is proposed for the corner of Beech and Carter Streets.

Both hotels have taken substantial City involvement to get to this point. The City acquired both properties: the TownePlace Suites lot earlier this year from the MWRA and the Holiday Inn lot during urban renewal activities in 1999.

Ash is currently pursuing NSTAR cooperation to relocate a power line that hovers over the TownePlace Suites lot, and the City is partnering with the EPA, DEP and MassDevelopment on a major environmental clean-up of the Holiday Inn site.

In addition to the two hotels developed and the two now proposed, Ash cites the pending development of the FBI building and the currently-under-construction One North of Boston residential projects as additional evidence of the success of the City’s economic development agenda. Ash says the totality of that agenda has resulted in 24 major projects and more than $800 million of investment taking place in Chelsea since he took the reins of what was then a dormant economic development program in 1996.

“We’ve had a great run, and there’s no reason to think that we’re at the finish line,” said Ash. “We’ve got a great story and a tremendous team here, not to mention a location that we’ve finally figured out how to leverage.  The results are new jobs and important new tax revenues are flowing in, and, maybe more importantly, a new image that many are taking notice of and pointing to as a real success.”

In terms of the hotel projects, Ash said the EPA clean-up needs to work its way through the next several months, and the relocation of the telephone pole on the Central Avenue site is not as simple as it sounds. Actions from the other boards and the City Council also need to be secured.

“I’m confident in the end result because we have a track record of succeeding,” he said. “The Economic Development Board has been tremendous, as has the Zoning and Planning Boards. And the City Council has demonstrated real leadership that has allowed my development team to get spectacular results. All signs point to us being able to continue to marshal those forces for further results.”

Ash said that he hopes permitting will be completed by the end of August.  Once construction begins, he estimated it will take about 10 months for the hotels to be built. He has been assured that a continued priority will be placed on local hiring.

Christine Thomas, a principal in the development team that holds ownership through various limited liability corporations in the Residence Inn and the two proposed hotels, says that the partners are eager to see multiple benefits accrue to Chelsea.

“Chelsea’s been good to us, and we’re doing all we can to respond in kind,” said Thomas. “Forty-percent of our employees at the Residence Inn are from Chelsea, we’ve been involved with numerous local organizations and efforts, we’ll soon be the city’s biggest taxpayer and we’re spending millions above what is necessary in order to develop a better quality product that reflects positively on our host community. Jay, the boards and the City Council have done right by us and we’re anxious to continue to return that respect and then some.”

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