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June 28, 2016 Likes Comments

Newton and Needham ready for innovation economy, says new report

A stretch of land along the Newton-Needham line adjacent to I-95 is poised to become something unique: a suburban innovation district. That’s the conclusion of a study commissioned by the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber in partnership with both municipalities and a consortium of business and educational leaders.

The area, known as the N2 Innovation Corridor, is already home to a number of large and small innovation-economy businesses. But favorable market conditions, coupled with the addition of hundreds of new units of housing; major new commercial developments; and roadway improvements (including a new dedicated exit ramp off I-95) position the area to become a new hub for the innovation economy as it expands outside Boston’s urban core.

The report was funded with a grant from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) with matching funds from the City of Newton, Town of Needham, local businesses and non-profits. It was produced by the economic development experts at Camoin Associates and lays out a roadmap for transforming the area. The company used data-driven analysis, extensive interviews of municipal, business and nonprofit leaders and studied regional and national trends to develop a series of six specific recommendations.

“Camion has identified the opportunity for this area to become more than just a redeveloped office park or series of business properties, but rather to achieve the vision of an innovation district where talent, innovation, and community converge to support a vibrant, entrepreneurial economy, a model for the integration of economic development, place-making and social networks,” the report states.

Comprised of nearly 500 acres of commercial, educational, retail and recreational land along the Newton-Needham line, the N2 Innovation Corridor is home to some of the nation’s fastest growing and best-known innovation companies. In addition to being the new location of TripAdvisor’s world headquarters, key employers include PTC, Turbine, SharkNinja (formerly Europro), Verastem, CyberArk, Bigbelly Solar and Karyopharm Therapeutics, among others.

Improvements are already underway, including a new exit off I-95 onto Kendrick St. leading directly into the corridor’s two main office parks and full funding of a Needham Street/Highland Avenue redesign. In addition, private developers are envisioning redevelopment of existing office parks; including Center 128 at the former General Dynamics site. The Wells Avenue Office Park in Newton was also the subject of a recent study, with transportation improvements and redevelopment as the primary recommendations. MassChallenge’s and the Cambridge Innovation Center’s new satellite operation in Newton Corner adds to this momentum as the area embraces new entrepreneurs. “Our area is ripe for growth and we now have a roadmap for transforming the N2 Corridor from a collection of businesses to an innovation-driven ecosystem,” said Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber. “Entrepreneurs and investors already recognize Newton and Needham as great places to live,” Reibman added. “We must now show them that this is also a great place to work.”

“The N2 Innovation Corridor will provide a remarkable place for business to locate and thrive, and it will do so while addressing a range of challenges: municipal fiscal sustainability, housing, equity, and preserving environmental resources,” said Steve Winter, principal economic development planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “It’s an important project, and MAPC is proud to have served on N2’s advisory board from the start and to have facilitated its EDA grant. We look forward to the project’s benefits to Needham, Newton, and well beyond.”

The Camoin report notes a number of data points in which the Newton Needham area excels, including a highly educated workforce and the 1166 patents registered to residents in 2015, translating to a rate of 8.98 patents per 1000 residents, far ahead of the national and state averages 1.02 and 1.52 respectively. In addition, one out every five residents in the two communities are foreign born, positioning the area as especially welcoming to attracting international businesses and entrepreneurs, perhaps most notably from Israel.

“We have the talent right here, we have world class colleges and we have very competitive real estate opportunities,” said Reibman. “We need to encourage local talent to build their companies here and to create a sustainable environment that brings in new younger talent to live and work here.” While housing has been a major impediment for some employers, Reibman said there has been considerable movement on the housing front in both municipalities, with planned developments incorporating affordable components.

In Needham, Normandy Real Estate Partners have approval to build a 390-unit apartment complex adjacent to the existing Charles River Landing. A separate 136-unit project has been approved nearby at Greendale Avenue. This spring, Needham Town Meeting approved a zoning to allow for mixed-use residential development of up to 250 apartments in the Wexford Street area.

Just last week, Newton Mayor Setti Warren released a comprehensive housing plan which calls for hundreds of units of housing inside the corridor on a parcel along Needham and Oak Streets owned by Northland Investment Corporation. A new boutique concept grocery store, new restaurants and two new hotels are also anticipated in other parts of the N2 Corridor area.

“The N2 Innovation Corridor offers an exciting opportunity to leverage our regional partnerships to promote the growing innovation economy in the inner suburbs,” said Newton Mayor Setti Warren. “We are well-placed geographically to be competitive, offering access to great schools, a talented workforce and livable communities -- all within close proximity to great amenities. This collaboration between Newton, Needham and the chamber to support innovative companies, small businesses and startups, ensures that the N2 Corridor is an appealing alternative for those looking for a foundation in the Metro Boston area.”

“The N2 corridor presents a wonderful opportunity for the Town of Needham and the City of Newton. Needham is very excited to be part of what will be a highly successful endeavor of our continued partnership with Newton and the chamber,” added Matthew Borelli, chair of the Needham Board of Selectmen.

Camoin’s report also calls out a number of issues that must be addressed by the communities to create a true innovation district, including addressing deficiencies in mass transit as well as co-working and other collaborative spaces.

“We’re at the beginning of the middle of this project and will still have a lot of do,” Reibman said. “But the great news is that the leadership in both municipalities as well as the area’s top property owners, employers and educators share our vision and a commitment to making this a reality.”

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ABOUT THE REPORT: Copies of “The N2 Innovation Corridor Economic Development & Marketing Strategy” can be downloaded here.

The report was funded with a $50,000 grant from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) with matching funds from the City of Newton, Town of Needham, TripAdvisor, Normandy Real Estate Partners, The Bulfinch Companies, Mount Ida College, Crosspoint Associates, Boston Realty Advisors, PTC, Cabot, Cabot and Forbes, Residence Inn Needham, New England Development, Muzi Motors, Dunn-Gaherins Food & Spirits, Century Bank, Fairway Independent Mortgage, RL Tennant Insurance, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, Bakers’ Best Catering and Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

 

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