May 14, 2018

Maynard Crossing project to bring life back to vacant Digital Equipment Corp. site

Photo | Grant Welker
Maynard Crossing has begun soliciting tenants, which already include Planet Fitness, 110 Grill and an urgent care center.
Photo/Grant Welker
A panoramic view of the Maynard Crossing site, which served as Digital Equipment Corp. offices for years, but has sat mostly empty for the past two decades.
Photo/Grant Welker
Mill & Main in Maynard center, where Digital Equipment Corp. had its first headquarters. The mill complex now hosts a range of smaller tenants.
Photo/Grant Welker
Digital's final headquarters on Powder Mill Road is now empty. It is one of several Maynard properties the company once occupied.
Photo/Grant Welker
A relic of Digital Equipment's heyday, when it had a helipad in the corner of its parking lot, remains today at the former headquarters off Powder Mill Road.
Two decades have passed since Digital Equipment Corp. occupied a 58-acre site in Maynard just a mile south of town center. More than half of that time has been spent trying to redevelop the property. Finally, a new use is becoming a reality.

Site work on the $130-million retail-and-housing complex Maynard Crossing is underway, with the first retail tenants slated to open in mid-2019. The development will include 300,000 square feet of retail, along with 180 residential units in three buildings called Grandville at Maynard and a 143-unit senior living facility slated to start construction in July.

A Planet Fitness gym, a 110 Grill, a Mexican restaurant, a day spa and an Emerson Hospital outpatient urgent care center are among those committed to the project. A Market32 grocery store had long been a planned anchor, but the company now doesn't have definitive plans for the development.

The Maynard Crossing plan, now smaller than first envisioned, fits better with a trend toward a mix of uses.

"In some ways, I think we're lucky," Town Administrator Andrew Scribner-MacLean said of the town dodging less-popular alternatives. "It's definitely a positive development."

A technology capital

The Parker Street site, originally a farm, was turned into an industrial park in 1960s. DEC bought the site in the early 1970s, later adding two additional buildings, according to the Maynard Historical Society.

DEC was once a behemoth in the computer industry, second only to IBM and employing more than 100,000 worldwide. But DEC's strength was computers popular with scientists and the government, not more user-friendly desktop versions geared to consumers.

"They began to have difficulties in the very late '80s," said Edgar Schein, a retired MIT management professor who wrote a book about DEC in 2004. "The market for their kind of product was drying up, and they weren't able to design what the consumer wanted."

DEC was more committed to technology than making money, Schein said, a mindset helping lead to its demise. The company was vastly downsized by the time California computer manufacturer Compaq bought it in 1998. DEC left the Parker Street property that year.

Picking the right use

A later owner, John Wolters, bought the property in 2000 for $13 million with a proposal for a commercial development. Maynard Town Meeting voters approved a zoning change to allow for commercial use in 2006; but Wolters ran into financial troubles, and in 2011, the site was sold at a foreclosure auction.

The current owners, Capital Group Properties of Southborough, didn't immediately get town backing. Town Meeting voters denied a zoning change in 2013, leaving Capital Group Properties to instead propose affordable housing units and a big-box retailer – features residents did not want to see.

A change in plans to include relatively smaller-scale retail – a Walmart Supercenter was a potential tenant – and a senior-living component changed the project's fortunes. A necessary zoning change was approved in January 2016.

Capital Group Properties agreed to pay $1 million to Maynard, help with road improvements and ban fast-food chains.

"The people in Maynard are very passionate about this project. A lot of people worked at this site," said Bob Depietri, a vice president for Capital Group Properties. "A lot of people had different ideas for how it should be developed."

Maynard Crossing will fill something of a geographic void in MetroWest retail. The nearest plazas of similar size are five miles north at the Acton Plaza in Acton, which is anchored by a Roche Bros., T.J.Maxx and HomeGoods, or the Stop & Shop-anchored Wayland Town Center development six miles to the south.

Maynard Board of Selectmen Chairman Christopher DiSilva said residents don't need to be concerned about the project harming existing businesses, as they could thrive with competition. DiSilva said residents are glad to see the Parker Street site no longer vacant.

"It's the right project for the town of Maynard," he said.

The last office building of a small cluster at the site was finally torn down last year. In February, the part of the site where the retirement community will go was sold for $2.25 million.

Other DEC remnants

Maynard Crossing is one of many former DEC properties left vacant when the company dissolved into Compaq.

"This site was a major business center for the area, with thousands of people coming in and out," Depietri said. "The start of the computer revolution came out of Maynard."

DEC left vacant its landmark mill in Maynard in 1994. The 1.1-million-square-foot complex where DEC started in 1957 once had 3,000 workers.

The mill complex was bought by its Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. in 2015 and branded as Mill & Main.

Photo | Grant Welker
Digit Equipment Corp.'s final headquarters on Powdermill Road is vacant again.

A DEC facility in Westminster is now home to Tyco SimplexGrinnell. A complex of buildings off South Street in Shrewsbury is home to UMass offices, Charles River Laboratories and others.

A sprawling site off Forest Street in Marlborough is now GE Healthcare Life Sciences, and an office off Old Bolton Road in Stow is now occupied by Bose. A microprocessing plant in Hudson was bought in 1998 by Intel, which itself closed the plant in 2014 and has a smaller presence remaining at the site.

DEC's final headquarters remains vacant. The 300,000-square-foot complex built in 1990 at 111 Powdermill Road in Maynard is on the market for an undisclosed price. Its last tenant, Stratus Technologies, left in 2015 for the original DEC headquarters at Mill & Main.


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