There’s a small park, colorful three-decker homes, community restaurants, and local and franchise stores on Somerville Avenue, near Central Street. It’s a sparse and quiet area. And in a couple of years, a six-story luxury hotel is expected to squeeze into this environment.
The city of Somerville currently has three hotels: La Quinta, Holiday Inn, and the Row Hotel in Assembly Row, which opened in August 2018 and is ranked in the top 100 hotels by Travel + Leisure. Several hotels are in the nearby areas of Cambridge and Boston.
But as of late 2019, three hotels have been approved and are in the works, doubling the amount of hotels in the city, according to Thomas Galligani, the director of economic development in the Mayor’s office.
The Beacon Street Hotel, a four-story, 35-room hotel with a restaurant, was approved for 369-371 Beacon St. in 2012 after a public hearing. The area’s site, located near Porter Square between Beacon Street and the MBTA commuter rail tracks, has been under construction for several years now. Galligani is unsure of when it would open and the name of the hotel.
A six-story, 120-room extended-stay hotel adjacent to a proposed residential unit was approved for 0 & 20 Inner Belt Rd. and 56 Roland St.—right across from the Holiday Inn.
The city Zoning Board of Appeals approved Cambria Hotel to be built on 515 Somerville Ave., according to Galligani. The hotel was permitted to include 163 rooms with a parking garage, and according to bldup.com, the project is slated for completion by February 2021.
Brendan Haplin, a teacher and writer, who lived on Somerville Avenue near the soon-to-be hotel in the early 1990s for a couple of years, was perplexed when he heard that a fancy hotel was to open in the location he considered “grungy.”
“At the time, Bay State Smelting was across the street from me. It was kind of just a little bit grim and semi-industrial pretty much between Porter and Union. There were some business that had been there forever, like an old man bar,” he says.
He moved to Somerville right after college because he could only afford something cheap. Haplin, 51, now resides in Jamaica Plain but has been a resident of the Greater Boston Area for about 28 years. He thinks the area has changed—Union Square is more established, newer stores have opened, and the city has overall become more gentrified, but Haplin is still shocked that the Cambria will be at that location.
“When I think of a place where luxury hotels are, I think of downtown, Seaport, these sort of gleaming locations, which, even now, does not describe Somerville Ave., even though it’s much more upscale than when I lived there,” he says. “It seems like a bad fit for the neighborhood. I feel like we’ve really had enough of building things for rich people.”
Surrounding Somerville Avenue is a historic area that attracted many immigrant families, according to Kristi Chase, a preservation planner in the City’s Historic Preservation Commission. It was an industrial location, and 515 Somerville Ave. was previously a factory.
Before approving a site, the Somerville Planning Board considers how easily accessible the hotel would be with public transportation, says Sarah Lewis, director of the Somerville planning division. The Board also discusses how the area of the city will be conserved, enhanced, and transformed.
“For the existing neighborhoods, we’re trying to conserve and make sure that the character of Old Somerville remains,” Lewis says. “But we do have lots of areas, like Boynton Yards and Assembly Row, that transform areas. That land used to be industrial, but hasn’t been industrial for a while. And so, those are the areas where most of the significant changes are happening. From a planning perspective, we’re trying to balance those.”
Galligani, the economic development director, says these hotels will help the Somerville’s budget as the city is able to collect a local hotel tax—the established hotels have definitely helped the budget as they’ve become more successful. He says that these hotels might attract people visiting for leisure, families for students in nearby universities, and people on business trips, as Cambria will be close to Greentown Labs. Business travel is the largest driver of room-stays in Somerville, which is also related to the city’s proximity to Kendall Square, Cambridge, and Boston, he says.
“How these hotels will impact the area, I don’t know. We have all kinds of wonderful, small businesses that are struggling like crazy,” Chase says. “What I am hoping is that the people that stay there will spend some money in Somerville.”
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