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The world around Brickbottom and Inner Belt, two industrial, underdeveloped areas in the southeast part of Somerville, is changing, and the city wants to capitalize on that change.
On Wednesday night, residents, members of the business community and officials met at the Somerville Lions Club, in the Inner Belt area, to discuss the future of this corner of the city.
"You've got to start somewhere," said Charlie McKenzie, a member who's part of a focus group working to establish a strategy for transforming Brickbottom and Inner Belt and entice developers to the area.
Office, lab, research
The plan is to attract businesses to create office, lab and research space. The area's proximity to MIT and the North Point area of Cambridge, itself newly developed, is seen as an asset.
McKenzie said there's 5 million square feet of potential space ready to be developed, space for 20,000 employees and residents to live and work.
Attracting companies to the area is a somewhat tricky, though.
"What do we need to do to invite developers in here?" asked Ben Carlson, a consultant with the planning and architecture firm Goody Clancy.
The "knowledge workers" who would be employed at office, lab and research facilities want "places where you can walk and get lunch, places where you can live near where you work," he said.
Much of Somerville fits that description; Inner Belt and Brickbottom do not. Currently, the area contains a disorganized patchwork of industrial facilities and bumpy roads.
The importance of the Green Line
Transit-oriented development is an important piece of the puzzle, which is why the Brickbottom Washington Street Green Line stop, planned as part of the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, is so important to those hoping to transform the area.
The city is "being proactive about how to maximize the Green Line stop," said McKenzie. The stop, planned for near the intersection of Washington Street and the McGrath Highway, would likely be one of the first corners of these neighborhoods to see development, he said.
In the near term, those working on the project hope the Green Line stop will lure small- to mid-sized businesses to the area, which, in turn, would spark a wave of larger development that radiates outward toward Sullivan Square in Charlestown.
"It's all going to blossom out of the station here," said McKenzie.
Wednesday night's meeting was about creating a vision for what all that development should look like. Attendees studied photographs of urban landscapes and placed stickers next to the photos they liked. Later, they broke up into small groups to discuss the attributes they'd like to see in Brickbottom and Inner Belt.
Planners are taking a long-term view, discussing what the area would look like in 2030.
"It's a grand vision," said McKenzie. "I think it's a lofty goal."
But, he said of Wednesday night's meeting and other early planning initiatives, "I think it's a good first step."
Learn more about plans for Inner Belt and Brickbottom at innerbeltbrickbottom.com.