July 30, 2013

Mixed Uses Multiply At Framingham Arcade Block

Framingham native and resident Vaios Theodorakos, who bought the much-neglected Arcade Block two years ago, is looking to add 24 apartments to the property's Amsden Building, at 95-115 Concord St. The apartments will be above Limey's Pub, he said, offering a residential component to the planned mixed-use development.

On the commercial side, Theodorakos just announced that the Subway sandwich chain has signed a lease to locate at the property, and Radio Shack and Jackson Hewitt, a tax-preparation franchise, may not be far behind. He's also trying to lure a national bank like Wells Fargo. But Theodorakos is quick to point out that the property will not be without mom-and-pop establishments.

"We need things like a little Brazilian sneaker shop, so people are exposed to it ... Diversification on multitude of levels," he said. "Downtowns have to speak to a broader base."

Hometown Pride

Theodorakos, who owns more than 3,500 properties around the country, bought the Arcade Block at a foreclosure auction in 2011 for $3.2 million from developer Michael Perry, following Perry's $60-million renovation effort that never came to fruition.

Renovation of the Arcade building is underway, with new windows, marble and granite bathrooms, parking and security in place, he said. The 1928 steam heating system has been replaced with something more modern.
The reason for the apartments, Theodorakos said, is not to make money — he said he will actually build them at a loss — near the commercial space where his mother and father, both Greek immigrants, had their eatery in town, the Framingham Café, many years ago. "The global plan is long term," he said. "So I am looking at (a) 30-year horizon; my son will take over in 20 years, the rents will be better for him to make money.

"I believe in Framingham and downtown. I am not willing to take the same risks elsewhere but this is my hometown, I can babysit and nurture it."
Theodorakos said his vision is for an urban development like in Cambridge or Somerville or communities in Europe, where residents young and old can work, eat, shop and visit museums close to home.. The apartment project is the latest phase in establishing this dynamic in the Arcade Block area.

Investment In The Future

Lenders' ability to find comparable properties with this unique, mixed-use design is part of what makes it difficult to fund construction work like the Arcade Block, Theodorakos said. He feels there's a lot riding on this project as a boost for economic growth, as well as his personal attachment to Framingham and the downtown area.

Multi-family housing units on Frederick Street, behind the Arcade building, are also on Theodorakos' radar. After buying them for $900,000, he plans to develop the structures into 300 smaller apartments with underground parking.

The key to downtown, he said, is people. "Big boxes are dinosaurs and will become extinct ... you will need lifestyle malls with housing," he said. "This is not a new trend," he said, referring to European villages and towns.

"Everyone wants to walk down to grab bread, say 'Hi' to a buddy and pick up a case of tomatoes. Who wants to get into and SUV (and) run down to Rte. 9 in a giant lot in a giant box to buy a product?" he said. "People want an experience."

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