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WGBH - How Affordable Should Suffolk Downs 2.0 Be?

Right now, the old Suffolk Downs race track exudes that particular type of melancholy that’s unique to places that are about to disappear.

Regulars still place simulcast bets inside the clubhouse, leaving a smattering of cars in the parking lot. But the huge grandstand sits empty, and the track itself is idle. The knowledge that Seabiscuit raced here in 1935, and the Beatles played to 24,000 screaming fans in 1966, only reinforces the feeling of faded grandeur.

Spend a few minutes talking with developer Thomas O’Brien of the HYM Investment Group about his vision for the property, though, and your spirits are likely to lift.

“As you can see, this is a big site,” O’Brien said recently, standing on the unused track’s edge. “It’s 161 acres, so it’s by far one of the biggest sites that can be redeveloped in the greater Boston area.”

And when that redevelopment is complete, O’Brien says — in 15 or 20 years, if everything goes as planned — the new neighborhood that will sit on this spot will be a gem.

“Great restaurants where people can enjoy a nice meal,” O’Brien said. “Great parks where people can be outside and stroll and walk and exercise ... 25 percent of all the area will be dedicated to open space.”

And, O’Brien adds, Suffolk Downs 2.0 will provide a major boost to the Boston area’s legendarily constrained housing stock, with 10,000 new units straddling East Boston and Revere.

“I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, and I have to tell you, there were decades here in Boston where we didn’t build any housing at all,” O’Brien said. “We really feel like this site can be part of the solution to the crisis.”

Which is exactly what Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards wants to happen. But unlike O’Brien, she’s not convinced the new Suffolk Downs will be part of the solution just yet.

updated: 1 year ago