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An insider’s guide to Somerville’s Assembly Row

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Winner of the 2016 Curbed Cup

Somerville’s Assembly Row won the Curbed Cup earlier this month for the second consecutive year, meaning that a plethora of Curbed Boston readers consider the newish enclave on the Mystic the region’s best neighborhood.

Patrick McMahon, director of development at Assembly Row developer Federal Realty Investment Trust, breaks down over email what makes the neighborhood tick and what to expect in 2017—and beyond.

He also answers the haters who don’t (at least not yet) consider Assembly Row a proper neighborhood.


Assembly Row has famously repeated in the Curbed Cup. What's changed since last year?

We were ecstatic to win the Curbed Cup once, never mind twice. But we think this shows how Assembly Row continues to mature. It seems like there’s something new just about every time you come, some new way to create your experience—whether you live here, work here, shop here, or just relax here.

In the last year alone, we’ve added more restaurants with Totto Ramen and Southern Kin (we’re a little partial to the chicken and waffles). We opened Muse Paintbar, providing another entertainment option. Partners Healthcare opened its headquarters on the southern end of our campus and began moving in its employees.

And our office building at 450 Artisan Way became 100 percent occupied.

And anyone who’s been here recently knows that there’s more on the way.

Construction is ongoing on Phase 2 that will include 447 apartments, 122 condos (which are almost 60 percent sold already), a 159-room boutique hotel, and another 170,000 square feet of retail. All complemented by a new public plaza that will feature bocce courts, fountain and fire features, and bookended by jewel-box retail buildings.

Not bad for what used to be the state’s biggest brownfields site.

Tell us something(s) we don't know about the area.

Assembly Row may be the new kid on the block, but we’re passionate about our history and our connection to Somerville. When you’re here, you can see it show up in big and small ways.

Those little plaques you step on every few feet on the sidewalks? Each reads “You Are Here” in a different one of the 62 languages that are spoken in Somerville.

Those big trusses that tower above the amphitheater, and later this year will be joined by others on the south end? They were reclaimed from the Central Steel building that once stood on this property and now stand as an icon that connects the present to the past.

The unique design carved into the brick outside Earls? The Edsel emblem, which is central to our history. After all, the Ford assembly plant that stood here from 1926 to 1958 was the only place where the Ford Edsel was fully built and assembled.

The miniature ships encased on the wall across from J.P. Licks? Another nod to history, as shipyards dotted this land in the 1800s, when the Mystic River developed into a transportation corridor from Boston to the region.

And there are so many others, as we really tried to impart a bit of history and sense of place along the Row.

What are some of the misconceptions about it?

A couple of things come to mind.

First, that we’re not a neighborhood. We may not have the history and the architectural feel that you find elsewhere, but already more than 1,000 people call Assembly Row home.

And we’re steadily growing into a place that has everything you would want in a home: outside parks, short walks to shopping and entertainment, endless coffee options, a highly sought-after grocery store opening soon, and easy access into the city (via our own Orange Line stop) or out of it.

There’s a reason why our current apartments are near capacity, why our new condos are more than 60 percent sold (with first move-ins about a year away), and people keep asking about our new apartment complex that’s still under construction.

Second, that we’re not outlets. It’s probably because they look nothing like what people have come to expect from outlets. But all of our retail stores are outlets, whether that’s Nike, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, etc.

Name three hidden gems.

1. There’s nothing quite like food and drinks in the open air, along the water. While there aren't a lot of places in the city to do it, we’ve got a string of options that runs right along the Mystic. French pastries at PAUL, a beer and a game at Tony C's, margaritas at Papagayo, lobster at Legal on the Mystic, eclectic menus at Earls, hot toddys at River Bar…the list goes on.

2. Miniland at LEGOLAND Discovery Center. There’s nothing like the real things, but we always love a trip through Miniland, an amazing replica of Boston’s iconic buildings constructed with more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks. From Gillette Stadium and the TD Garden to Logan Airport, Zakim Bridge and the Old State House. You can “pitch” at Fenway or “row” along the Charles River.

3. FitRow. O.K., this isn’t open yet. But it’s what we might be most excited about in 2017. FitRow will be a cluster of five fitness studios, and a juice bar, operating independently in their own studio space. It’s designed for today’s fitness enthusiasts who increasingly are interested in a variety of high-quality fitness experiences, especially those with smaller class sizes and individualized approaches to wellness.

TITLE Boxing Club Boston and Orangetheory Fitness, as well as Squeeze Juice Co., are already on board.

And what will it be like five years from now for people considering a move today?

We’re a little biased, but we think it’s going to be the best place to live in Greater Boston. All of the amenities you want just steps from your front door. And access into and out of the city—without the obstacles that come from living in it.

Assembly Row will continue to evolve over the next several years. It will be energized with over five million square feet of residential, office, retail, dining, and entertainment. Ultimately, it will be home to more than 3,500 residents, 12,000 office workers, and 2,500 retail employees.

What it will continue to be, though, is a neighborhood. Yoga on the river, 5K races, Riverfest, movies under the lights in Baxter Park, drinks around the fire pit at River Bar, ice cream on warm summer nights in Assembly Line Park.

It’s an amazing comeback story, but one that’s still in its infancy.