LYNN — Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that he has filed a $3.5 billion economic-development bill that would invest $27 million into projects that have been prioritized by the City of Lynn.
The announcement was made at the Breakwater apartment community at the North Harbor site in Lynn, a 14-acre waterfront property on the Carroll Parkway.
Referencing the mixed-use development throughout their press conference introducing the legislation, Baker and members of his administration described it as a great example of what can be accomplished when the state resources are available for communities seeking to invest in housing development and other revitalization projects.
Breakwater was built in part as a result of a $1.2 million MassWorks grant to fund roadway and water-infrastructure improvements, and a $1 million Seaport Economic Council grant to ensure the long-term integrity of the adjacent shoreline along North Harbor.
“I drove by this site for 20 years, and basically it was grass, and … maybe 12 of those cement blocks,” said Baker, who lives in Swampscott. “I used to drive by it and think to myself: What an unbelievable opportunity for the City of Lynn to put that site to work and create what would be a tax-generating opportunity in perpetuity.”
Once he was elected governor, Baker said he told members of his cabinet that before he left office there would be something at the site, which sat vacant for 40 years before a groundbreaking was held for the Breakwater development in December of 2019.
“It took several years to unwind all the sort of ‘administrivia’ and the goo and everything else that had made it undevelopable for so long,” he said. “But we need to do this over and over and over and over again. And we need to do it with urgency.”
Mayor Jared C. Nicholson added: “We’re here today at just a wonderful example of the kind of public-private partnerships that are possible, that can be facilitated with the state support.
“We sincerely hope that with the right state support, we can continue to work on bringing these kinds of beautiful developments to the Lynnway, to the waterfront, to our city, that generate great returns for the developers that are taking the initiative, making the investment, generate much-needed revenue for the City of Lynn and create opportunities for housing for our residents that are struggling with the cost of housing.”
Baker — who was joined in Lynn by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy; and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides — said transforming long-standing community visions, like Breakwater, into reality by leveraging state resources is a major goal of the economic-development bill he filed on Thursday.
The legislation, “An Act Investing in Future Opportunities for Resiliency, Workforce, and Revitalized Downtowns” (FORWARD), includes $2.3 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and more than $1.256 billion in capital-bond authorizations.
The proposed bill, which awaits action from the state Legislature, directs at least $250,000 to all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. The Baker-Polito administration said the legislation is aimed at supporting the Commonwealth’s path forward as it transitions into a post-pandemic world through investments in projects that strengthen state infrastructure and create jobs.
In Lynn, the funding would be significant. The proposed bill would direct $27 million to projects that Nicholson said have been prioritized by the city. According to Polito, these investments include $13 million for Heritage State Park improvements, $10 million for the South Harbor waterfront redevelopment project on the Lynnway, $2.1 million for traffic and safety improvements at Broad and Washington streets, $1.3 million for a downtown recovery grant, and $283,000 for seawall restoration.
“These are real examples that the City of Lynn has identified as needs and priorities of the community,” said Polito. “And just think — if they can use these dollars that the state puts into play with their own — how much could happen here in a relatively short period of time. That’s transformational.”
Polito said the bill includes funding for more than 600 items requested by Massachusetts cities and towns. Like Lynn, she said these funds are not meant to be applied for — they go toward projects that have already been identified by communities as needs, but lacked the necessary state funding in the past.
The bill includes $1.2 billion in energy and environmental initiatives, including the reproposal of a $750 million clean energy innovation fund; $300 million for the unemployment assistance fund; and $25 million for the HireNow program, Baker said.
It also includes $270 million in authorization to support housing production across the Commonwealth. Kennealy said it would increase the cap on the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) from $10 million to $30 million.
He said the program helped to make The Vault in Central Square, a former office building that was redeveloped into 48 market-rate units near the commuter rail, possible five years ago.
Kennealy also highlighted the $550 million in MassWorks grants that the bill would provide for local infrastructure projects. Lynn, which would receive $2.1 million, has benefited from five MassWorks grants in the past, three of which have been aimed at helping to “unlock development and to better connect the downtown to the waterfront,” he said.
Baker said the bill also places an emphasis on transforming downtowns in a post-pandemic world that has transitioned from a commuter-focused workforce to one that has adapted to working at home.
While his proposed $250 million placemaking and revitalization program didn’t make it through the legislative process last summer, he said the Legislature has since released its own report on the future of work, which came to the main conclusion that downtowns do, in fact, need to change.
He said communities, with the state’s help, will need to envision downtowns that include more housing and entertainment options, which create the street traffic, vitality, and commercial activity that are fundamental to these areas.
Citing Amazon’s decision to pass on Massachusetts for its next headquarters due to its concern about the lack of affordable housing, and the many young people who say the cost of housing prohibits them from staying in the state, Baker emphasized urgency in starting to make the types of investments that the FORWARD bill proposes.
“We have a big opportunity here,” said Baker. “We need to get started. We need to put the certainty associated with these resources to work for the people of the commonwealth and especially for our colleagues in local government so that we can start plotting and planning and building and creating and reimagining — from one end of Massachusetts to the other.”