Somerville IKEA Plans Dead?

By Thomas Grillo, Real Estate Editor, Boston Business Journal
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BOSTON (CBS) – Mayor Thomas M. Menino has the Filene’s hole in Downtown Crossing, and six miles away Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has the long vacant IKEA site at Assembly Square.

Six years after the Swedish build-it-yourself furniture giant received approval for a 340,000-square-foot store at Assembly Square, the 12-acre parcel remains bare.

While officials celebrated a ground breaking this week of Phase I at nearby Assembly Row — perhaps the largest mixed-use, transit-oriented, smart-growth development project on the East Coast with a $1.5 billion investment from Federal Realty and AvalonBay Communities — the IKEA project next door continues to stagnate.

After providing construction start and end dates since 2006 that have come and gone, IKEA won’t commit to a time frame for a new store.

Joseph Roth, an IKEA spokesman, said the company continues to own the land and has city approvals, but is still “evaluating” when would be an appropriate time to open a store.

But the odds don’t look good for a Somerville store.

After routinely opening as many as four stores annually in the U.S., IKEA, opened just one last year.

In 2010, IKEA didn’t open any U.S. stores.

“We already have a store in Stoughton, Mass., and that removed the urgency that may have existed in the mid 2000s,” said Roth.

“We have an internal evaluation process by which we decide when and whether to open a store.”

IKEA has been looking to build in the Bay State since the mid 1990s.

In 1996, Wellesley rejected Ikea’s plan to build a store on 16 acres located at the intersection of routes 9 and 128.

That year, IKEA turned to Somerville where former mayor Michael Capuano embraced IKEA.

But after Capuano was elected to Congress, then Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay had doubts about the store.

Following IKEA’s approval by the Somerville Planning Board in 2003, an abutter and a group of Somerville residents filed separate suits to block construction of the store, citing potential traffic jams.

IKEA opened its Stoughton store in 2005. The following year, the Somerville lawsuits were settled when Federal Realty Investment Trust and IKEA agreed to help fund a new T station at Assembly Square and improve bike and pedestrian links.

IKEA Group reported sales grew by 6.9 percent to $24.7 billion euros in fiscal year 2011.

But IKEA is running out of time and Somerville officials may be running out of patience.

The permits to build were extended last year by the Planning Board, but those approvals expire in August. William White, vice chairman of Somerville’s Board of Aldermen, said he’s convinced that IKEA won’t build the store that was first proposed in 1998.

“I am operating under the assumption they will not build it,” he said.

“I can’t imagine a last-minute scenario that would green light the project given the state of the economy.”

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

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