October 1, 2018

Turning the WRTA garage into the Trolley Yard

Michael O'Brien, Principal, Galaxy Development, LLC, Auburn

Michael O'Brien, Principal of Galaxy Development, Auburn

Company founded: 2000

Employees: 9

Age: 60

Birthplace: Middletown, Conn.

Residence: Webster

Education: Bachelor's degree in business, Stone Hill College, Easton

Michael O'Brien and his Galaxy Development bought the longtime home of the WRTA garage at the corner of Grove Street and Park Avenue in Worcester for $3.8 million in 2016. After getting permitting approvals from the city, the new retail complex called the Trolley Yard will open with about a dozen tenants, including Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Orangetheory Fitness, Hot Table Panini, Sprint, Gentle Dental and Alpha Nail Bar.

Why buy the former WRTA site?

It is difficult to find space this large in a city like Worcester. It has frontage on two major streets and lots of space for parking.

How is this project different from your other ones?

A lot of the projects we do, you might have a big supermarket anchor. That isn't the case here. This is a lot of small tenants, which can be a lot of work. It takes just as much work to line up a small tenant as it does to get one big tenant.

However, economically, smaller tenants will pay more per square foot. Once you have them all lined up individually, you tend to generate more revenue.

How many properties does Galaxy have?

We have 40-50 properties, mostly in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. Of all of those, the most favorable to do business in is Massachusetts; the state just makes it a lot easier.

We moved the business from Vernon, Conn. to Massachusetts. I wanted to be closer to my home in Webster, and my three kids were all getting bigger. They are 22, 20 and 14 now.

Did the now-resolved environmental issues with this site give you any pause?

We thoroughly tested and reviewed as much material as possible on this site, so we knew what we were getting into before we bought the property.

It turned out to be exactly as we expected, although the review process did take some time. It took one year to complete the review and now another year to build.

How was working with the city?

For the most part, we've always found the city to be very pro-business. We went through an RfP process to buy this property, and they were easy to work with. We were the highest bidder.

The WRTA sale went through just as expected and the permitting process was smooth.

The city did have an issue with how the buildings were facing the street, so they suggested changes we ended up making to make the property more open. I do like the way the buildings are laid out now, and we put in false glass on the sides of some buildings to make it look better.

What has the response been from potential tenants?

The response from potential tenants has gone extremely well. We get an enormous amount of calls, almost on a daily basis.

With new construction, the leases are more expensive to cover the added costs, so that rules out all but the big national brands from coming in here. We have tenants like Gentle Dental and Orangetheory Fitness.

What do they like about it?

They like the large amount of people within a few miles of this property. The traffic on both Park Avenue and Grove Street on either side of the property is tremendous: 40,000 cars daily.

Tenants also like the ingress and egress in and out of the property, and the large amount of parking.

What's next for the property?

We will be going back to the city soon to get approval for the new version of building D. We had a 40,000-square-foot lease fall through, and now we are looking at a 26,000-square-foot one-story building. We're considering bringing in a restaurant and having a rooftop dining and patio option.

How is the development business these days?

You definitely need to pick your spots in the industry right now. The big-box stores are not expanding, although there are pockets of potential tenants if you know what you are doing: health care, dental, fitness, and specific community or neighborhood needs.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Brad Kane, WBJ editor.


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