June 5, 2005
John Laidler, Boston Globe Correspondent
Nearly three decades after Foxborough State Hospital closed its doors, a long-running effort to find new uses for the sprawling campus off Route 140 is nearing reality.
A developer who successfully bid on a 93-acre section of the site is planning to seek permits for 203 units of housing, and up to 115,000 square feet of office and retail space on the property, which is dotted with rambling brick buildings in various stages of disrepair.
Foxborough officials and residents, who last fall were skeptical of the state's handling of the process, are now voicing optimism that the much-anticipated redevelopment is finally on track.
"The town has been looking to have this hospital redeveloped for years," said Town Planner Marc Resnick. "And I think most people are pleased that it is happening."
The developer, VinCo Properties of Boston, offered the high bid of $5.17 million at a Feb. 28 auction held by the state Division of Capital Asset Management. The company is scheduled to close on the property on June 15, according to Martha McMahon, a deputy general counsel for the state agency.
The prospects for the property's redevelopment also looked bright three years ago, when a town committee and state officials drafted a reuse plan for the 93 acres, and the necessary rezoning was approved by Town Meeting. However, the process eventually fell apart amid concerns about the developers chosen by Foxborough for the project, and the state decided to put the property up for bid this winter.
Built in the 1880s, Foxborough State Hospital was shuttered in 1976 during a wave of facility closings as the state moved to deinstitutionalize the treatment of mental health patients. The hospital complex was used by a variety of agencies until the state declared it surplus in 1993, and the approximately 150-acre site was transferred to Foxborough in portions over the past decade. The town is building a public safety facility on part of the property, with most of the remainder set aside for athletic fields.
One condition of the sale to VinCo Properties is that the developer adhere to the reuse plan approved in 2002, but Resnick noted that plan "allowed for a fair amount of flexibility."
Even with the new zoning in place, Resnick said, VinCo Properties would still need to obtain permits from the town.
Kevin Weinfeld, chairman of the Planning Board and the town committee that helped craft the reuse plan, is encouraged by the recent developments.
"I think Vincent O'Neill appears to be a young, aggressive developer, but in a positive way," Weinfeld said, referring to the 34-year-old president and owner of VinCo Properties.
VinCo is converting a former Raytheon facility in Bedford into 400,000 square feet of office, and research and development space, and 80 to 90 townhouse-style condominium units. Among its completed projects was the conversion of the former Brookline public works barn into a medical office building while maintaining most of its historic features.
Before founding VinCo in 2001, O'Neill worked for a Philadelphia company owned by his brother, J. Brian O'Neill, that redeveloped the former Watertown armory into the Arsenal Mall, with 750,000 square feet of office and retail space.
Weinfeld said his reuse committee, which met recently with O'Neill, "was impressed, and excited that this thing is moving forward."
"This is a huge parcel of land and buildings that have been let to go into disrepair, and will now be put to use," he said. "That in itself is important." Weinfeld said the development would also provide a much-needed range of housing in town.
O'Neill's plans call for development of 80 apartment-style condominium units for people 55 and over in four former hospital wings facing Chestnut Street, and 20 rental units would be built in the hospital's central administrative building, also on Chestnut, according to William R. Buckley, whose Foxborough firm, Bay Colony Group, is serving as project engineer.
A building at Chestnut Street and Payson Road would be converted to 20,000 square feet of retail and office space.
Behind those buildings, another 40,000 square feet of retail and office space would be developed in the hospital's old power plant, chapel, masonry and carpentry shops, and old garages.
Four buildings on Payson Road would be razed and replaced with 30 town houses, Buckley said. Twenty single-family homes would go on land between Payson Road and North Street. Another 34 single-family homes would be built on wooded land on the west side of North Street.
The plans also call for 25,000 square feet of office and 30,000 square feet of retail space to be built at Chestnut, North, and Main (Route 140) streets. And on the south side of Chestnut Street would be 19 single-family homes, 18 of them new and one a rehabilitation of the residence used by the hospital's directors.
O'Neill said he is partnering with Intoccia Construction of Foxborough and Douglas King Builders of Easton on the single-family and town house construction, and the Abrams Group of Boston on the rental housing and the apartment-style condominium units.
Once he takes ownership of the land, O'Neill said, he plans to begin work right away, with the first steps removing asbestos and demolishing the buildings that cannot be restored.
"We're very excited," he said. "Any time you have the ability to take a historically significant campus and bring it back to life as a multigenerational, multiuse complex, it's exciting."
The reuse plan requires him to save certain buildings, but O'Neill has decided to go beyond that to save some of the others.
O'Neill said he has agreed also to work with the companies run by Michael Intoccia and Douglas King - who had been involved in the previous development team until the arrangement fell apart - to build town sports fields on 40 acres of the hospital property.
Buckley, the project enginner, said the first parts of the development could be ready for occupancy by next summer.