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DEVENS, MA-When the Army closed Fort Devens in 1996, few thought the area would be able to rebound economically from the military pull out. But these days, Devens, as the renamed Army base is now known, has become a national model for military base redevelopment. Spearheaded by MassDevelopment, which was created by the Legislature to come up with a mixed-use redevelopment plan, Devens now has 106-unit condominium units with 176 more planned, a recently opened 150-room Marriott hotel and conference center and a downtown bustling with a 20,000 sf shopping center.

In fact, less than 10 years into the Legislature’s 40-year, enterprise zone plan for the 4,400 acre Army base, half of the 8.5 million sf of commercial development planned for the site has already been built–30 years before its expected build out. “Its been a real step in solidifying the community,” Meg Delorier, chief of staff for MassDevelopment, tells GlobeSt.com, referring to the recently opened business zone that has helped bridge the residential and business interests.

What made the former military base 35 miles west of Boston a rallying point for businesses, Delorier believes, is not just the Legislature’s $200-million bond appropriation but the large flat lots available for development, few of which exist inside the Route 495 belt. The Gillette Co., one of the first businesses to locate at Devens when it built a distribution center on the property several years ago, gave the mixed-use project credibility, Delorier says. Gillette’s commitment brought out other developers who found that the site, which spans the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, offered good highway access, ample lot sizes and a population of willing workers.

Today, more than 76 companies, employing 3,600 people, call the former military base home. While growth has slowed down somewhat in the last few years like it has elsewhere in Massachusetts, DeLorier says interest in Devens’ commercial land remains strong. In the last few months alone, NAI Hunneman Commercial brokered three land deals on the site with lots going from $90,000 to $120,000 an acre. With more than four million sf of commercial development remaining and interest in the property far from waning, even Delorier can’t predict how soon the community will be built out, but it’s likely that the Legislature’s 40-year redevelopment plan may be decades off its mark.

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