Plans for Polaroid site are still developing, slowly

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / April 26, 2012
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Sam Park’s bold bid to redevelop the sprawling former Polaroid campus along Route 128 in Waltham has been anything but a quick turnaround. Yet things are picking up for the Boston-based developer.

Park confirmed he is in talks with DeMoulas Supermarkets Inc., which he said is exploring plans for a Market Basket that could help anchor his mixed-use project. Officials from the grocery store chain did not return calls for comment.

Still, while the project is moving in the right direction, it is taking longer to pull together than Park envisioned.

Park rode to the rescue back in 2010, picking up the 120-acre property for a song — $40 million — after the collapse of a massive plan for 1.7 million of square feet of offices, shops, restaurants and residences.

Yet two years later, Park, who has touted his ability to deal with complex and challenging development projects, is nowhere near ready to start construction on his much leaner version of the Related Cos.’ now-defunct $500 million plan.

And it may be at least another year before he starts work on the retail and office buildings slated for the first phase, according to both Mayor Jeannette McCarthy of Waltham and Monica Tibbits, executive director of the 128 Business Council, who recently discussed the project’s status with Park.

It is a time frame Park confirmed in a later interview.

“They are moving the lines, the utility lines,” McCarthy said. “They are anticipating a year from this spring.”

So when’s the grand opening? Once construction time is factored in, the expectation is at least another two or maybe even three years for the project’s first phase — 280,000 square feet of office and retail space.

Park began demolishing buildings on the Polaroid site a year ago. He told the Globe last March that the structural steel for the project’s first phase might be going up in a year’s time, which would be right about now.

But now, Park is acknowledging that finishing initial site preparations could take another year, though he won’t have an official timetable ready for a few weeks. The project has been slowed by difficulties in moving utility lines from the front of the property, facing Route 128, to the back.

The delay comes as office vacancy rates along the highway’s central corridor hover near the 20 percent mark.

“You are not going to see any major moves in an election year,” said Tibbits.

There has been strong interest on the part of retailers and other tenants in the project, he said. In addition, Park said, he has all his financing lined up for the $100 million first phase.

“We are going gangbusters,” Park said. “There is very robust demand for the space.”

The need to relocate the high-voltage transmission lines hardly was a surprise. But the problem isn’t moving the utility lines as much as it is reconnecting them after they are moved. The power company won’t allow the connections to be made during peak demand periods in the winter or summer , leaving open only the spring and fall.

Park said he is faced with the reality that he may not be able to make the connections during the spring window.

That said, he believes the construction of the first phase of retail and office buildings will move along faster because much of the preparation work will have been done. Park contends he can get his buildings up in 12 to 15 months.

Despite the delays, the mayor is clearly standing by Sam Park & Co., declining to even acknowledge that plans for the site are taking longer than expected to come to fruition.

McCarthy also brushed aside looming competition just up the 128/Interstate 95 corridor in Burlington, where a number of developments are in the planning stages, led by Nordblom Co.’s plans to build a 140,000-square-foot Wegmans grocery store and a restaurant row featuring local establishments, as well as offices, stores and housing.

“I am not worried about the timeline,” McCarthy said. “The plan they have given me is a good plan and I would like to see them going as soon as possible.”

Still, it highlights a weak spot in Waltham’s armor — not enough retail and restaurants near the big office parks along Route 128.

Park’s revamp of the Polaroid property may change that, but it’s not here yet.

Waltham still holds the trump card — its strategic location at the juncture of 128 and the Massachusetts Turnpike is hard to beat.

“There is a lot of demand to be in the Waltham area,” Park said. “That market has never been a question for us.”

Hospital plans

outpatient center

Life sciences and technology firms are not the only ones expanding in Waltham these days.

Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge is opening a 28,000-square-foot outpatient facility where Yolanda’s Bridal Salon was located on Waverly Oaks Road.

Mount Auburn Healthcare at Waltham will offer primary care, obstetrics, gynecology, midwifery, and geriatric services, as well as radiology services and a lab collection site.

It will also serve as the new home for the Mount Auburn Weight Management Center.

High-tech magazine

celebrates 30 years

Framingham-based CRN is celebrating 30 years of covering the high-tech business, along 128 and Interstate 495 and across the country. In a sign of how global the tech business has become, the magazine and its online news site recently held a 30th anniversary party — in Los Angeles. That’s a lot of history, both for CRN, originally known as Computer Reseller News, and the industry it covers.

The magazine was launched on Long Island with an office in Framingham, but moved its headquarters up here seven years ago. Originally a weekly print publication, CRN now comes out monthly.

The print publication is basically a teaser for the website, focusing on big interviews with major players like Joseph Tucci, chief executive of Hopkinton-based EMC Corp.

But the vast majority of its editorial staff is dedicated to covering the industry in real time on the CRN website, with just two of 21 reporters and editors working on the print publication, said Kelley Damore, CRN’s editorial director.

The technology of delivering the news has changed dramatically, and continues to, with CRN gearing up to push into the news frontier serving smartphones, she said.

But the operation has stayed true to its core mission, focusing on news that is of interest to independent vendors who resell the products rolled out by Hewlett-Packard, EMC, and myriad other tech companies to the corporate world.

Not a bad track record in the Darwinian world of publishing.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at

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