By Seth Daniel
The banks of the Malden River in Everett don’t look like much today, but River’s Edge (Medford) developer John Preotle has plenty of hope that the other side of the river in Everett could one day mimic and add to the extraordinary change that has happened on the Medford side – where 10 years ago the banks looked like Everett and the first structure, the Tufts Boathouse, rose from the rubble and ushered in a huge change in the way the river has been perceived.
This summer, the Mystic River Watershed Association, along with the cities of Everett, Medford and Malden – as well as private partners like Preotle – are conducting a groundbreaking visioning exercise for the Malden River Greenway. The planning meetings will continue next week on Aug. 8, just over the Woods Memorial Bridge at the River’s Edge property – where ideas and input will be shared for what many hope will be a continuous riverwalk and park system along both sides of the river.
Preotle and his company will host that meeting, and they hope that many Everett residents will attend.
“I think that this river can be a great amenity for everyone,” he said. “We know what it looked like 15 years ago. It had been a forgotten industrial river and it’s changed a lot…It’s a wonderful progression here. It’s taken a little longer with the GE site (in Everett), but there are some great plans for that now…If you create something nice, people will come. If people come, it will be maintained because people will demand it be maintained. If people don’t come, it will just go to seed. This will all be really nice if it gets built.”
Getting people there was first and foremost accomplished with the boathouse, which will be a focus of the Aug. 8 meeting in order to show how activating river uses can add to any kind of development.
Now, with offices, retail and nearly 800 apartment units online or about to be online, the boathouse mixes in with people on walks or sitting on benches or walking their dogs.
Preotle said it was one of the first things they worked out on the site, giving Tufts the lease, and the college quickly built the boathouse. It was the first thing there, and now it serves as a tie to the river for the private development.
In fact, Preotle said the boathouse actually changed the vision for the popular and heavily used riverfront park.
“After it was built, we saw how it was used and we already had a plan, but when we saw how the path interacted with the river, we changed our minds,” he said. “We ended up changing our entire park plan. We had spent a lot of money on designing the plan and at first it wasn’t a path at all, but just several areas where you could see through to the river. Absent the boathouse, I don’t know if we’d have made that change and gotten what we have here today.
“The more active the river is, the better,” he continued. “Whether people are rowing, boating or walking, we hear from tenants that they like to see things happening on the river.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s administration is working on several projects that involve connecting the walking/biking path network around the Malden and Mystic Rivers. The Mayor and his team are also working with the Mystic River Watershed Association, Wynn Development, National Grid, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and MassDOT to create a complete system of pathways along the Malden River and utilizing the new Woods Bridge on Rte. 16 to connect to Wellington and River’s Edge in Malden.
That effort is the Malden River Greenway, and is the basis for the Aug. 8 meeting. Another meeting is scheduled to be held in Everett some time in September, but DeMaria and Everett officials are hoping that residents are well-represented at next week’s meeting as well. It will be a crucial time for input, he said.
“The Malden River is a hidden gem in the City of Everett,” said DeMaria. “Working with our partners at the Mystic River Watershed Association, we can open up access to the river, create recreational opportunities and encourage development along the river, which will compliment those activities. Now is both a critical time for the river and for our community. We will continue to work with private property owners, non-profit organizations, state agencies and our municipal partners to make this river way an asset for all of us.”
Preotle is one of those private developers – a pioneer of the river in many people’s minds – that proved that the location is attractive and the river is truly an amenity. He, along with Mayor DeMaria, are hoping the success spreads just 50 yards from Medford to Everett.
“You’d absolutely like to see it happen and continue,” he said. “On the Everett side, it’s just got to happen. You have the GE parcel now and Wynn is not just doing the minimum. Their plans are very nice and it will be a really great addition to the river. I think that will continue.”