$50M East Cambridge Complex Gets Start

In response to the city's drive to revitalize East Cambridge, a private firm has begun to build a 171-unit, $50-million luxury condominium complex.

The H.J. Davis Development Corp. started construction of River Court about three weeks ago and expects the project to be completed in the spring of 1988, said the Newton company's president, Jonathan Davis.

The 40-acre, 14-story building will be located on Commercial Ave. and is one of a handful of large residential developments springing up in the poorer parts of the city, Davis said.

After a detailed examination of the area in the mid-to-late '70s, the city proposed a master plan to "rehabilitate an underutilized area of the city to make it more accessible to the neighborhood," said Lester W. Barber, director of land use for the city.

"It was an effort to upgrade the whole community to a first-class urban environment and make the waterfront more accessible to residents," he said.

Prior to the city's plan, East Cambridge was a low-density industrial and commercial area, said Barber. "There has been a dramatic improvement in the whole community, and we are within three years of completion."

"We feel that East Cambridge is a dynamic area that is going to grow tremendously," said Davis. "The housing market is very strong, there is great demand, and this activity is a great impetus for selling luxury housing," said Davis.

At present, two other major developers are building residential housing in the area--Cohen Propeties with a 260-unit project, and Unihab Developers with a 180-unit project, he said.

There are also several major office and commercial developments, shopping malls and other projects, he said. "There is approximately $300-400 million worth of new development here...a whole new city is growing," he said.

"All the projects are having a very significant impact on the community by viture of the work that is being done. We are capitalizing and contributing," said Davis.

H.J. Davis bought the property on 170 Commercial Ave. for $7.3 million in October from another private developer, said Davis. The building will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom units and duplex penthouses, 40 percent of which have already been committed, he said.

Prices of the condominiums range from $150,000 to $800.000 per unit.

It will also feature a health club, 265 parking spaces, and 6,000 square feet to be used as retail space for a restaurant, a gourmet grocer, a pharmacy and a dry cleaner, said Davis.

The developers said they expect to attract a mix of young professionals and others who want the convenience of easy access to Cambridge and Boston. "There are 15,000 people who work within a six-block radius of the building site," Davis said.

"The prices are for market-rate housing, so you have to be pretty wealthy to live there," said Barber.

Although construction has started, the developers have yet to be issued a permanant building permit, said City Zoning Specialist Rangit Singanyeagam. "There are some building code problems that have to be revised before a permit can be granted," he said.

The developers expect this "minor logistical problem to be cleared up in a month," said H.J. Davis Vice President Jonathan D. Katz.

"We have been given the go-ahead to start excavation and foundation work by the city, and we are in no way being held up" without the permit, Katz said.

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