The Transformation Continues in Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Written by Laura McHargue

The town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts was featured in the February 2017 edition of Business in Focus, where community leaders introduced an ambitious new redevelopment initiative focused on the Route 129 corridor. A year later, the Chelmsford Economic Development Commission is excited to share an update on the project…
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Historic charm meets high-tech industry in Chelmsford. Established in 1655, Chelmsford is located in eastern Massachusetts just 30 miles from Boston. The town is home to 34,000 residents, many of whom are highly skilled and educated. This talented workforce has made the town a thriving center for businesses in the defense, bioscience, communications, and instrumentation industries for many years. The town offers excellent public schools, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus is located nearby. With an outstanding quality of life and a low cost of living, Chelmsford is an attractive place to live and work.

The town’s pro-business atmosphere makes it an ideal location for businesses of all sizes. The Chelmsford Economic Development Commission strives to attract and support businesses in the area. The town’s economic development strategy centers on the redevelopment of the existing office park and the surrounding Route 129 business corridor. As a follow-up to the February 2017 feature that introduced this initiative, Business in Focus spoke with Evan Belansky, Director of Community Development; Donald Van Dyne, Chair of the Chelmsford Economic Development Commission; and Lisa Marrone, Director of Business Development, to learn about the project’s progress.

In October 2016, Chelmsford’s Town Meeting representatives officially approved the Route 129 Business Amenities Overlay District, which paved the way for redevelopment that will transform the existing 623-acre office park into a commercial center for the 21st century. Built in the early 1980s, the office park has served the needs of Chelmsford’s industrial employers for many years; however, the park requires significant updates in order to remain relevant and attractive to businesses in the years to come. This new zoning overlay will allow for larger-scale development in the area in order to accommodate more office space, housing, and amenities.

The town also voted to earmark funding for marketing efforts in support of the Route 129 development project, and created a new Director of Business Development position within the Town Manager’s office. “These are significant investments that will help us reach out to the market in a proactive way and get the word out that there’s opportunity for new business and development here in Chelmsford. It sends a strong message that the town, particularly the Board of Selectmen and the Town Meeting, is seriously committed to the successful implementation of 129,” Van Dyne says.

The goal of the redevelopment initiative is to reposition the industrial park as a vibrant commercial center that offers amenities for the employees of the businesses located there and for the enjoyment of the entire community. Envisioned as a live/work/play concept, the redesigned office park will feature office space, retail, restaurants, residential space, and more. “Those are examples of the amenities that are typically located in a vibrant industrial office park. It’s what many businesses are looking for, so that employees can utilize amenities throughout the week, and on the weekend Chelmsford residents and people from the surrounding communities will be able to enjoy it as well,” says Belansky. “As each of these projects moves forward, all the pieces of the puzzle will eventually be in place for a live/work/play environment.”

A defining year
2017 was a defining year for Chelmsford, as the Economic Development Commission and the Town Manager’s office have worked tirelessly to bring the vision to fruition, and they are excited to share the progress that has been made.

The first multi-family residential development to be constructed under the new zoning overlay is currently pending approval. The proposed development will feature 440 residential units. The Economic Development Commission anticipates that this development will receive approval and begin construction in 2018. The town is also working closely with a developer to construct the first restaurant and retail development in the Route 129 corridor, a proposed 20,000 square foot development on the two-acre vacant lot on Billerica Road.

As the Route 129 development project moves forward, the Economic Development Commission remains committed to attracting new businesses and filling commercial space vacancies throughout Chelmsford. Since the beginning of 2017, ten new businesses have relocated to Chelmsford, occupying 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Among these new businesses are HITEC Sensor Developments, Inc., which will occupy a 33,750 square foot facility in Chelmsford, and Digital Federal Credit Union, which has purchased a 125,000 square foot facility that will house up to 900 employees. These new businesses represent the industries that make up the majority of Chelmsford’s local economy, including advanced manufacturing, biosciences, and instrumentation. “A year ago the area had 1.2 million square feet of vacancy, and we’ve essentially cut that in half,” says Belansky.

Moving forward in 2018
The Chelmsford Economic Development Commission is actively moving forward on the redevelopment initiative. “The zoning has been well received, the market forces seem to be responding in a positive manner,” Belansky says. “We continue to recruit retail and restaurant opportunities, and we’re actively pursuing specialty indoor recreation, as well as breweries and other businesses of that nature.”

“I believe there’s an opportunity in the 129 area for a truly transformational project, something that would create a mixed-use area with commercial space as well as housing, creating a campus environment,” Van Dyne says.

The Commission also hopes to negotiate a sale or lease of adjoining parcels of land in the area in order to accommodate a large commercial facility. “We do have several parcels down there that could potentially be joined together, up to 100,000 or 200,000 square feet of space, which would be enough space to accommodate a national company looking to relocate to eastern Massachusetts. We could potentially attract a large company to Chelmsford,” Van Dyne says.

Once completed, the Route 129 corridor development will offer a unique environment that combines the excitement of a vibrant new commercial center with all the conveniences of an established suburban community. We at Business in Focus look forward to seeing the project progress!

Sidebar:
Introducing Lisa Marrone
The Town of Chelmsford is pleased to introduce Lisa Marrone, Director of Business Development. The position was recently created as part of Chelmsford’s economic development initiative.

Marrone brings extensive expertise and experience in economic development. She began her career as business manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, a federal research and development center, where she managed a $30 million budget. Most recently, Marrone worked for 11 years in economic development for the city of Leominster, Massachusetts. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Bentley University and an MBA from Fitchburg State University.

“I worked in Leominster from 2006 until 2017, so I experienced working in economic development in a very difficult economy; by the time I left, the city was at full capacity, with no vacant space.” Marrone also brings an extensive network of contacts. “I’m bringing in my resources and contacts at the state level in support of workforce development, tax incentives, and technical support for businesses,” she says.

“My first weeks here in Chelmsford have been great. The community is very welcoming,” Marrone says.

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