Business, Local Government and Politics

With or without Amazon, there are big plans for Suffolk Downs

Developer Tom O'Brien offered Revere officials a vision of redevelopment for the Suffolk Downs site. The rendering shows the site looking toward East Boston.
Developer Tom O'Brien offered Revere officials a vision of redevelopment for the Suffolk Downs site. The rendering shows the site looking toward East Boston. (Courtesy image)

REVERE — If the new owner of Suffolk Downs gets his way, the shuttered race track will be transformed into a vibrant neighborhood with homes, green space, offices, lab buildings, shops and a hotel.

Thomas O’Brien made the case for 5 million square feet of redevelopment to the Revere City Council this week. His company, HYM Investment Group, bought the 161-acre site in East Boston and Revere last year for $155 million. He’ll need a zoning change that would allow mixed-use development at the former horse track to get the project off the ground.

“This is an important redevelopment for Revere, Boston and the region,” he told the panel. “We have assembled a world-class team ready to move forward…our first and most important task is to make this a walkable neighborhood…make use of the Blue Line…create a coastal place where people want to shop, work, eat a meal, and live.”

In his presentation, O’Brien said 25 percent of the property, or about 40 acres, would be reserved for open space. The rest would be split evenly between housing and commercial development. The parcel contains 109 acres in East Boston and 52 acres in Revere.

Last week, Boston and Revere made the list of the 20 metropolitan areas under consideration by Amazon for construction of its new headquarters, HQ2. If selected, the two cities could reap the benefits of 50,000 high-paying jobs and more than $5 billion in investments over the next two decades.

But O’Brien said the project is not dependent on Amazon.

“Amazon is great, but it’s like a lottery ticket and who knows how it will all play out,” he said. “If it’s not Amazon, it will be another company.”

Mayor Brian Arrigo said nearly two years ago, the city was discussing the possibility of a slot parlor a few hundred yards from Suffolk Downs.

“Now, we’re on the shortlist for Amazon headquarters,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for that site.”

But whether Amazon comes, O’Brien’s proposal for a new neighborhood will be a gamechanger for Revere, the mayor said.

“HYM has proven to be a great partner in the short amount of time they’ve been in the city,” he said.  “They are the definition of a top-notch, world class developer. This project, with or  without Amazon, is transformative for the city of Revere.”

City Councilor-at-Large Daniel Rizzo asked O’Brien for assurances that the project will not just be residential.

In the past, he said, developers have made promises of mixed-use development, only to deliver housing.

“You said it will be divided 50/50 between residential and commercial, but we need some protection,” he said.

In response, O’Brien said zoning documents will guarantee the city that his company intends to keep its mixed-use promise.

A public hearing on the zoning change has been scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26.

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