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UMass studying huge mixed-use development



For The Recorder
Friday, October 20, 2017

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts officials have taken the first step toward bringing a privately developed, mixed-use project to the campus that could include 1,200 residential beds for students, a 200-room hotel and conference center and fully staffed medical office.

The University of Massachusetts Building Authority in June put out a request for information, or RFI, that elicited responses from 10 developers, including global development companies and national and local companies, for a project that would be between 644,000 and 659,000 square feet, if all elements are included.

“This is tied to making the university a vibrant place for students to live and to complement the Amherst community,” UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said.

Blaguszewski said the 34-page advertisement was developed over several months and aims to meet particular university needs and aspirations.

“This exercise really was about finding out what the possibilities are, to see what parties are out there, what’s the interest in the marketplace and what’s feasible,” Blaguszewski said.

The idea of these public-private partnerships, otherwise known as P3s, is embedded in the UMass-Town of Amherst Housing and Economic Development report, released in November 2014 by U3 Advisors. Funded with $60,000, split by the town and UMass, the report suggests mixed-use developments that more closely tie downtown Amherst to the UMass campus, while increasing the supply of off-campus student housing and expanding the town’s tax base.

The RFI was seeking to determine the feasibility of “development, financing, maintenance and operation of a mixed-use facility, including residential beds, hotel space, conference center, athletic facility, retail space and medical office.”

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Amherst officials are aware of the RFI and the possibility of future development.

“We look forward to being fully engaged with the university as it begins the process of determining the future of utilizing public-private partnerships,” Bockelman said.

The advertisement identifies four possible sites for the project, all of which were previously mentioned in the report from U3 Advisors.

One is the area currently occupied by parking lots on Massachusetts Avenue adjacent to the Robsham Memorial Center for Visitors.

Another comprises the parking lots on University Drive south of Massachusetts Avenue, close to the Southwest Area of campus.

The third is on North Pleasant Street, on land owned by UMass, including the former “Gateway” site where fraternity row once stood, along with privately owned land, which would connect to Kendrick Park and Triangle Street.

The final option is a North Amherst site concentrated on the North Village Apartments, family housing for UMass students, with the RFI noting: “Due to the substandard conditions of the existing apartments, we considered a redevelopment of the site that can accommodate new housing for the existing tenants in North Village and add additional units for undergraduate, graduate, or family housing.”

The RFI contains many details about what the UMass Building Authority is seeking, including a 1,200-bed, 400,000-square-foot residence hall, a 150-to-200-room hotel at 50,000 to 65,000 square feet, a 40,000-square-foot conference center, a 50,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility, an entertainment facility at 10,000 square feet and a health services facility of approximately 80,000 square feet.

The medical complex would include “ambulatory care housing; 20 primary care medical practitioners; 30 mental health providers; four visiting consultants, optometry, optical shop, physical therapy; laboratory; X-ray facility; pharmacy; associated administrative services, and conference/community rooms. Health services facility shall include the exploration of facilities needed to accommodate a fully functioning accredited emergency room.”

Blaguszewski said it is too early to know what sort of development might happen, if any, and that officials will be spending weeks and possibly months evaluating the responses and the market conditions that developers have identified.

“That’s going to take some time,” Blaguszewski said.

In a general sense, the development concepts offered include mixed-use commercialization, including student housing, hotel and conference center, indoor athletic facility, as well as restaurants and shops and parking.

“Not everyone has expressed an interest in all aspects of potential projects,” Blaguszewski said.

The next action would be a request for proposal, issued by the UMass Building Authority, for one or more of the companies that meet specific criteria and might be willing to enter a ground lease and development agreement.

One of these is Capstone Development Partners LLC, which is handling a $120 million, 260,000-square-foot residence hall at the UMass Boston campus, on land leased from the state, the first of these collaborations involving the UMass system.

The university also received responses from American Campus Communities, AJ Capital Partners, Corvias, EdR, LendLease, Plenary, SIGNET, SKANSKA and University Student Living.

Blagsuzewski said town leaders and the University-Town of Amherst Collaborative, a standing committee focused on the relationship between the town and UMass, will play a role as this unfolds. “There are no decisions on how to proceed at this stage,” Blaguszewski said. “We’re assessing, reviewing and studying how to proceed.”