MassDevelopment

City of Champions Looks for a Winning Streak

January 27, 2019 : Banker & Tradesman, by Christopher R. Vaccaro


Brockton Set to Offer Up Parcels for Redevelopment

Brockton TDI District
In 2015, MassDevelopment designated Brockton’s downtown as a Transformative Development Initiative district, envisioning it as a “lively, walkable multi-cultural center."

Brockton is known as the “City of Champions” because of Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, two professional boxers who once called the city home. Marciano held the world heavyweight championship from 1952 to 1956, and retired undefeated as champion. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987. Brockton high school athletes are known as the “Boxers,” in honor of Marciano and Hagler.

Hagler left the ring in 1988 and pursued an acting career in Italy. Since then, Brockton has focused on creating a winning streak for its economy. In addition to excellent highway access, Brockton has three Commuter Rail stations, offering 30-minute trips to Boston’s South Station.  Yet despite these amenities, economic success has been elusive. There are signs that this will change.

City Focused on 66 Acres
In 2015, MassDevelopment designated Brockton’s downtown as a Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) district, under a program designed to jump-start development in Gateway Cities.  Mayor Bill Carpenter, Planning Director Rob May and Brockton Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Robert Jenkins soon finalized an urban revitalization plan under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 121B, covering 66 downtown acres. The plan envisions making downtown Brockton a “lively, walkable multi-cultural center” that capitalizes on “its role as a regional governmental, service and transit center” with new housing and mixed use developments.

Brockton TDI District
MassDevelopment is aiming to jump-start growth in a 66-acre zone in Brockton’s downtown.

Chapter 121B allows cities to identify distressed areas for redevelopment, and gives them the tools to achieve that goal. Local redevelopment authorities may take failing properties by eminent domain and sell them to private developers committed to the revitalization plan. The aim is to harness private development to achieve the public purpose of urban renewal.

This use of eminent domain can be controversial, but the United States Supreme Court upheld it in the 2005 Kelo v. New London decision. In Kelo, the city of New London selected a neighborhood for redevelopment as a Pfizer Pharmaceuticals research facility, and sought eminent domain takings of several private homes. Some homeowners objected. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that although government authorities generally cannot use eminent domain to transfer private property to private developers, New London’s takings were justified as part of an urban renewal plan that would benefit the public at large. Ironically, after the Supreme Court’s decision, Pfizer abandoned New London in 2009.

Smart Growth Districts Producing Results
The Brockton Redevelopment Authority expects to publish a request for qualification in February, to attract developers interested in buying underperforming properties. The city prefers that downtown owners willingly make their properties available for redevelopment, but it will use eminent domain if necessary. Last December, after months of fruitless negotiations with a property owner, the city took a derelict 8-story building at 93 Centre St., paid the owner $1.02 million, and sold it to a developer for the same price.

Brockton’s revitalization plan is producing results. The city established four Smart Growth Zoning Districts under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40R, allowing higher density projects near the main Commuter Rail station. As a result, 150 dwelling units were completed, and 250 more units are permitted. Several of these projects are utilizing the Housing Development Incentive Program under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40V, which provides state tax credits for market-rate housing production in Gateway Cities.

On the commercial side, W. B. Mason recently expanded its Brockton headquarters with an $8.5 million investment and historic tax credits. Brockton also secured District Improvement Financing through Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40Q. This allows Brockton to dedicate real estate taxes derived from increased assessed values in the revitalization district, to other projects within the district. Brockton is using this revenue to finance a 414-space downtown parking garage.

Brockton is even taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone Program under the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Last May, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration establish three Opportunity Zones in Brockton under the new tax law. Investments in these zones may qualify for favorable capital gains tax treatment.  When combined with the multiple layers of state and local incentives already in place, Brockton’s Opportunity Zones are quite attractive.

Brockton’s Mayor Bill Carpenter is optimistic.

“We believe that the next 24 months will be the most exciting time for Downtown Brockton in the past half century,” he said. “We are building a new Brockton.”

The mayor’s team laid the groundwork to revitalize this Gateway City. Now it’s up to developers to pursue this opportunity.