Assembly Square study criticized at hearing

by Tom Nash on April 5, 2011

Nobody seemed to believe numbers presented March 31 stating the city budget faced only a $37,500 a year increase when the massive development in Assembly Square is completed — including the person who presented the report.

With aldermen poised to vote on a nearly $26 million bond that would plug the gap left by missing federal funding which was set to pay the city’s share of the cost for a T stop at Assembly Square, the report was meant to show the increase in the city’s yearly budget against the expected $2.15 million in tax revenue resulting from a state-run District Improvement Financing program.

But even Richard Paik, vice president of the firm that prepared the analysis, told the Board of Aldermen Finance Committee he was puzzled by the idea that a development that would bring 400 new homes and nearly 300,000 square feet of retail space would have such a small impact. He said he wondered whether officials at the city’s departments had been truthful with him in their projections.

I could have gone back and said, ‘Come on, are you sure?’” Paik told the committee at the hearing. “But I thought that would be disrespectful.”

Ward 2 Alderman and Finance Committee chair Maryann Heuston said she doubted any of the city officials spoken to thought they could speak truthfully, and said Paik’s expectation of honesty was “unrealistic.”

There’s not one department head in the city who would be so bold to say, ‘I could use 10 more people,’ ” she said.

I’m astounded,” Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz said. “I thought a comma was in the wrong place.”

Gewirtz said the city should have included numbers from Medford’s Station Landing project – a similar development completed across the river from Assembly Square.

Testimony from the public was equally skeptical, with several speakers citing the budget shortfalls that have hit the city in recent years.

The city is cash strapped,” Somerville Voices contributor David Dahlbacka told the committee. “To say we have margin doesn’t seem to be credible at all.”

Meanwhile, Gewirtz reiterated her reservations about Federal Realty Investment Trust, the company responsible for the development, not putting the $26 million forward itself. Federal Realty Vice President Don Briggs has repeatedly said the company was not willing to put up the funding, while also repeatedly saying the company has $4 billion in assets.

It gets to me, I have to say,” Gewirtz said. “It frustrates me that we are subsidizing this project on the backs of our taxpayers.”

A second Finance Committee meeting on the DIF bond will be held April 13. Comments from the public will be accepted until April 14.



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Daisy April 6, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Expectation of honesty is unrealistic?

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