MassDevelopment Offers Developers a Wider Range of Incentives than Tri-Town

November 17, 2009

The Patriot Ledger, by Allison Manning

DEVENS – Backed by state money and a track record of revitalizing blighted areas, MassDevelopment works with a much different tool set than the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp. Both agencies are responsible for putting closed military base land to protective uses. But the similarities don’t go much further.

As the state’s finance and development authority, MassDevelopment tries to stimulate economic growth by funding projects across the state. Loans totaling more than $43 million were made during the authority’s most recent fiscal year, for real estate, equipment and special programs.

About half of MassDevelopment’s operating budget is for Devens. The agency is responsible for providing all municipal services to the residents and businesses on the former military base. It hires firefighters, performs public works projects and signs contracts for educational services, among other things. The municipal services are paid for with $3.7 million in annual property-tax revenue.

It has similar hands-on relationships with projects at 100 Cambridge Street in Boston and Village Hill in Northampton.

The MassDevelopment route is very different from the one Weymouth, Rockland and Abington chose when forming Tri-Town. MassDevelopment Vice President of Research Mark Sternman said he viewed it as a “mini version of federalism,” deciding whether to let the individual municipality or the state make the decisions.

“I don’t know if there was a reason Devens was done one way and Weymouth was done another way,” Sternman said. “I don’t think at the time (the choice was made) … anyone thought that Devens” would be this successful.

Backed by the state, MassDevelopment has an edge over other communities when courting businesses. Under the reuse plan adopted by the three towns around Devens, it does not need to consult with residents unless it is seeking a change.

“We have a little more flexibility than a municipality would have,” MassDevelopment Chief of Staff Meg Delorier said.

MassDevelopment can issue tax-exempt bonds to businesses. The Devens Recycling Center, for example, took advantage of a $12 million loan.

While MassDevelopment is best known for its role at Devens, the quasi-public agency finances a range of projects, from helping a school purchase an administrative building to issuing a $2.6 million tax-exempt bond to the operator of an assisted-living facility.

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