The bulldozer is the unofficial symbol of the Neponset Valley this summer. It's responsible for reshaping hundreds of acres of prime real estate to make room for nearly 7 million square feet of commercial projects.
The roughly 3-million-square-foot retail component - the equivalent of three South Shore Plazas - will create thousands of jobs and millions in new tax revenues.
"It's an exciting time for the valley," said Sue McQuaid, president and CEO of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce.
This fall, the bulk of the ribbon-cuttings will be on Route 1 in Foxboro. As many as 40 new stores will open by year's end at Patriot Place, the Kraft family's 1.3-million-square-foot retail project next to Gillette Stadium. The center will employ nearly 2,000 people.
Competition heats up next summer when the 75-store Legacy Place lifestyle center opens in Dedham. In 2009, up to 1.3 million square feet of big box and specialty stores could begin to open at Westwood Station on University Avenue in Westwood. And the aging Walpole Mall has begun a 75,000-square-foot expansion that will add up to nine new tenants.
The 4.5-million-square-foot Westwood Station alone could create up to 7,500 jobs alone by the end of its 15-year build-out, according to the developer's estimate.
Site work on Sharon Commons recently began alongside Route 95. Developer Michael Intoccia of Foxboro said he expects to begin construction of the 450,000-square-foot lifestyle center after about six months of infrastructure work.
Intoccia referred leasing questions to Dean Stratouly, president of the Cambridge-based Congress Group, which has been handling negotiations with tenants. Stratouly could not be reached for comment, although a Target store is among the tenants slated for the shopping center.
Despite the economic downturn that has resulted in a string of retail bankruptcies, developers say there's sufficient demand to fill all of the projects.
To safeguard themselves against copycat competition, developers have played up the novelty factor by recruiting tenants that are new to New England.
Patriot Place is anchored by Bass Pro Shops' first New England location. The Missouri chain's massive stores promote the outdoors lifestyle with interior features such as a 25,000-gallon aquarium and a laser arcade.
"Establishing a relationship with Bass Pro Shops was extremely important," Patriot Place General Manager Brian Earley said. "We wanted to have something here that you won't find anywhere else."
The same could be said about several other tenants opening this year in the lifestyle-center phase of the development.
National Amusements' 500-seat Showcase Live nightclub has started luring concert-goers with acts such as Chaka Khan and Boys II Men.
The Hall at Patriot Place, which opens this fall, will offer a high-tech perspective on the NFL franchise's history. CBS Scene, a three-story sports bar, is a new concept opening Sept. 7 featuring exhibits on the history of the network within a sports bar format.
In the final phase, a 150-room Marriott Renaissance Hotel and Spa is scheduled to open next spring.
Since opening in November, the 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops location has lived up to its billing as a regional draw for day-tripping families, Earley said. The chain's shops are designed as destination retailers where shoppers stay for up to five hours, and the Foxboro store's parking lot has been full of license plates from as far away as New York and Pennsylvania.
"They are providing a nice level of traffic that the other traditional retailers in the center are not used to getting," Earley said. "We're seeing lots of moms and carriages and families."
Legacy Place is promoting such drawing cards as the East Coast debut for California brewhouse chain Yard House and the largest Whole Foods Market in New England. Westwood Station is countering with the region's first location for Rochester, N.Y.-based grocery chain Wegmans. Westwood Station will have a RA Sushi Bar, a new concept by the Benihana Japanese steakhouse chain.
Another strategy: bringing big-city dining and entertainment to the suburbs. Legacy Place recently announced that Kings, the Boston bowling and billiards complex, has signed on as a tenant. Patriot Place is playing up the arrival of Davio's, the well-known Newbury Street bistro.
The development boom will change the habits of area residents used to traveling to Braintree's South Shore Plaza or Route 9 to shop, said McQuaid, of the Neponset Valley chamber.
"It's a region where we did not have major shopping malls," McQuaid said. "It's an area that has been growing (residentially) for the past 10 or 15 years, and now we're having a strong retail component closer to those developing communities."
- Sue McQuaid, president and CEO of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce
Developer: W/S Development/S.R. Weiner and National Amusements
Retail space: 650,000 square feet
Jobs: 1,200 (estimated)
University Avenue, Westwood
Developer: Cabot, Cabot & Forbes
Retail space: 1.3 million square feet, possibly three hotels with 330 rooms
South Main Street, Sharon
Developer: Michael Intoccia
Retail space: 400,000 square feet
Route 1, Walpole
Developer: Kraft Group and SEi Cos.
Retail space: 75,000 additional square feet (including outbuildings)
Developer: Kraft Group and SEi Cos.
Retail space: 1.3 million square feet and 200-room hotel