“This used to be nothing, back in the day,” says Vanessa Martinez, an assistant marketing manager for Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developer of Assembly Row. “It kind of was a pile of dirt. There was not really much here before we came in.”
Assembly Square has come a long way since its days as a Ford plant. Federal Realty, which owns and redevelops areas across the country, has built up the square over more than a decade, curating a neighborhood complete with retail, apartments, a fitness complex, and a grocery store.
Assembly Row is distinct from the rest of Somerville. Where elsewhere mom-and-pop businesses and startups fill old buildings, Assembly Row is gleamingly new and populated with national chain stores. The neighborhood is home to the city’s first high-rise apartment building, which offers luxury apartments that representatives say have mostly attracted non-Somerville residents.
But Martinez doesn’t see these two sides of the city as being at odds.
“With any type of development, you always run into [a situation where] you have a lot of national players, you have a lot of retailers and stores that you would find downtown, that are not necessarily mom-and-pop, but since Somerville has such an eclectic group of squares and areas that do have that, the mom-and-pop thing, I think that Assembly Row is a good complement to that, because there are different options you can get that you wouldn’t get at the different squares,” Martinez says.
Martinez, who’s a Somerville resident, emphasizes how convenient it is for her to have large retailers accessible right in the city.
Despite the number of chains—from Banana Republic to Earls Kitchen + Bar to Polo—Federal Realty emphasizes hiring locally, Martinez says. About a quarter of Row employees are Somerville residents, according to Federal Realty.
“For all of our stores, we really push this local hiring initiative, to really get Somerville people to work here,” Martinez says.
Assembly Row also created an appealing environment for Partners HealthCare, now the city’s largest employer, according to Martinez.
While the apartments at Assembly Row’s Montaje high-rise are pricey—one-bedroom apartments start at about $2,700/month, two-bedrooms at $3,700/month, and three-bedrooms at $5,000/month, according to a spokesperson—12.5 percent of units are designated for affordable housing. However, the agreed upon affordable housing percentage for the building is well below the city’s usual 20 percent rule.
The luxury building includes an artist/maker space, an outdoor pool, a common lounge area, and a fitness-on-demand studio where residents can conjure up fitness videos with the click of a button. Montaje will have a sky deck with beautiful views of the city once construction is complete, according to representatives.
Building representatives point out that it takes just seven minutes to get into downtown Boston from the Row, given the nearby Orange Line T stop.
Montaje is part of Assembly Row’s Phase 2, which Martinez says is crucial to Federal Realty’s vision of giving the Row a community feel. The Trader Joe’s, the new apartment building, and FITRow—the square’s center for different exercise classes, including pilates and boxing—all contribute to making the curated neighborhood a place where people can live, rather than just a retail destination, Martinez says.
Federal Realty is designing a second apartment building, which will have 500 units, and a 250,000-square-foot office space. Both buildings will have retail on the first floor, according to the developer.
This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.