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May 4, 2007
Legal battle could mean NorthPoint’s headed south
By Scott Van Voorhis, Boston Herald Business Reporter

There is no bigger development project in the Boston area than Cambridge’s multibillion-dollar NorthPoint.

But a nasty legal battle has erupted between NorthPoint’s would-be developers, raising questions about the future of this long-planned “city within a city” near the banks of the Charles River.

Boston and Maine railroad, which owns the 45-acre site on the East Cambridge-Boston line, has filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court against its longtime development partners, which include some of the biggest names in Boston real estate.

The railroad, and its parent company, Pan Am Railways, wants to give walking papers to its erstwhile partners, who include executives from the old Spaulding & Slye, long Boston’s blue chip real estate firm, as well as the global giant that recently acquired it, Jones Lang LaSalle.

The battle comes on the heels of a devastating Supreme Judicial Court ruling, one expected to force NorthPoint to undergo a lengthy Chapter 91 coastal building review.

The railroad company brought in the Spaulding & Slye team to handle development details of the project, but now accuses them of failing to get the job done.

A spokesman for Jones Lang LaSalle, whose role he said was limited to that of a real estate services provider, said the company had met all its obligations.

But the latest legal battle threatens to pull the plug on the sweeping development plan – one that had promised to transform old railway land into thousands of badly needed housing units.

Construction has begun on two condo high-rises, but now, according to the suit, “the project has been essentially shut down.”

Moreover, after six and a half years of public relations hot air about NorthPoint, little if anything has been accomplished, the suit contends. That would likely come as a shock to anyone following some of NorthPoint’s glowing local press coverage. The project’s marketers have been trumpeting a steady barrage of progress on the 20-building behemoth that would even include a relocated T station.

However, behind all that happy talk has been a knock-down, drag-out fight over how to deal with some very serious – and expensive – obstacles.

A key part of the plan involved relocating the Lechmere Green Line station across the McGrath highway and into the planned NorthPoint development. In exchange for paying for this, the railway company was to receive more land in the area on which to build out NorthPoint. But plans to relocate the T station are now close to collapse amid spiraling costs, according to the suit.

The only construction that has happened so far – two partially completed condo buildings – was wholly financed by a principal of the railway company, the suit contends.

Ouch.

But this just about sums it up: “Through six and one-half years of the Project, no appreciable progress has been made toward the ultimate goal.”

Still, it could be worse. Just ask the developer of Boston’s Fan Pier, now 25 years in the making

  

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