Cushing Village Sets Latest Deadline While Similar Watertown Project Set to Open

Photo: Similiar in many ways to Cushing The Residence Inn by Marriott nearing completion in Watertown.

The developer of the long-troubled Cushing Village project – the 164,000 sq.-ft. three-building development approved in July 2013 – told the Planning Board Tuesday night, Jan. 5 that he is really, really close to getting all his ducks lined up to begin construction on the $63 million project.

Next month.

Hopefully.

Now 30 months behind the initial timeline provided by Chris Starr, head of the development team Smith Legacy Partners, the latest “update” – requested by the Planning Board after Starr’s team missed a “drop dead milestone” of Dec. 18 to purchase the town’s municipal parking lot for $850,000 to begin construction of the first of the three buildings – has Starr asking the town to “stand still” until the board’s next scheduled meeting on Feb. 2 when his team “hopes to inform the board of a loan closing at that meeting.”

In a letter to the board – which was received a few hours before Monday night’s meeting, Jan. 5 – Starr painted yet another rosy picture of the development’s status, similar in tone and optimism made to the town in August 2013, September 2014, and in May, August and December of last year.

Reading the correspondence’s highlights, Board Chair Liz Allison said that while the team didn’t come close to meeting its earlier promises for Dec. 18, “the Cushing Village Development team has achieved significant lender-based milestones and is committed to proceed(ing) expeditiously with a loan closing in the month of January.”

Starr attempted to reassure the board that the project’s major lenders – including lead bank Wells Fargo – are still involved in closing the deal for the municipal lot, telling the board member they can contact the banks to validate his effort to purchase the lot.

Starr also noted that real estate veteran Rod Loring, who has three decades of experience in the residential and commercial sides, has been added to the day-to-day leadership team to work closely with Starr.

It is unknown if this move was an internal change or one suggested by the lenders and other potential partners.

Starr concluded by revealing that the biggest impediment to the closing, a lease modification with a “national” company to join the project, was difficult to do during the holidays.

While Starr would not say whether the firm was a retail operation or a parking lot management firm, he expects to sign up the company “shortly.”

Starr concluded by stating how he wants to work closely with the board as he “remains committed to Cushing Village. The development team is … confident that significant progress will be made over the next month.” He also is requesting an “internal” working group be established with the board – whose meetings will not be advertised to the public – and a weekly “call” to update the town of any progress to these new goals.

While saying the lost Dec. 18 deadline was a “disappointment,” Allison said attempting to close a land deal during the holiday season was, in hindsight, difficult to accomplish.

Yet members were not in such a forgiving mood. While encouraged to hear the developer wants to increase communications with the board and the staff in the Office of Community Development, “action will speak louder than words,” said Raffi Manjikian.

“I’m disappointed that it took until … we arrived at this meeting to see this letter,” said Barbara Fiacco.

“They took a significant amount of time and made a number of promises when they were here asking for an extension. I found that a little frustrating. The residents deserve more transparency,” she said.

The board’s irritation with the continuous delays in the Belmont project since one needs only to look to neighboring Watertown to witness a development that is fast on its way of cutting the opening-day ribbon.

The Residence Inn by Marriott on Arsenal Street across from the Arsenal Mall is similar in design and function to Cushing Village. The six-story extended-stay hotel has 150 rooms with kitchen area and work space, 115 underground parking spaces and first-floor retail space.

The significant difference with Cushing Village is that the Residence Inn is nearing completion. Despite receiving the OK from Watertown to commence development in late 2014, the project – developed by the experienced team at Boylston Properties – is expected to open to the public in the late spring/summer, generating tax revenue and hotel fees to Watertown.

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