UMass moves ahead on $200M project to replace 2 apartment complexes

  • North Village Apartments in Amherst, which the University of Massachusetts Amherst owns and rents to students and their families. unknown—UMASS AMHERST

Staff Writer
Saturday, September 07, 2019

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts is moving forward with a plan to have a private developer build new student housing at two sites, tearing down two existing apartment complexes in the process.

In an announcement Thursday, the university said it will seek proposals for a public-private partnership to build “modern, apartment-style housing” on Massachusetts Avenue for about 730 undergraduates and 165 graduate students.

The development, with an estimated cost of more than $200 million, would also replace around 170 graduate family housing units in North Amherst with new two-bedroom units.

The projects, which are expected to begin in 2020 and open in phases starting in the fall of 2022, would require the razing of Lincoln Apartments on Massachusetts Avenue and North Village Apartments off North Pleasant Street.

The university said that because of their age and condition, the apartments could not be renovated. Lincoln apartments will close on May 31 and North Village will close on June 30, according to university officials.

“Student residents affected by construction at each location have been provided extended notice so they can plan ahead for their future housing needs,” reads a university press release. “The university is also working toward securing alternative housing for graduate student families who will be displaced by construction.”

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the university is working to secure “a number of apartments” for current North Village residents who will be displaced by the construction. However, he said those plans are still in their early stages, and that the university isn’t yet sure how many apartments it will be able to secure.

“A lot of these folks are couples — they’re married, have children. It’s more of a challenge in the marketplace for them,” Blaguszewski said. “We’ve tried to do some mindful planning here, recognizing it’s going to be a major project and a major impact on people’s lives.”

Blaguszewski added that those tenants will be allowed to convert their year leases to month-to-month leases if they want, allowing them to find housing on their own.

As for Lincoln Apartments residents, Blaguszewski said they are on a traditional residence hall contract for one year. The university’s Residence Life and Off Campus Student Life offices will be holding events for those residents to help them plan for the next year. They will also be given the ability to cancel ther residence hall contracts this year without incurring any cancellation fee.

“We’re giving people an academic year so that they’re aware and they can plan … and we really want to engage with them and help find them housing,” Blaguszewski said. The university has an online search tool for off-campus housing, he added. “We’ll be providing guidance on how to use that, talking about the market and what we know and where they may go.”

As for what the university’s deal with a developer will look like — who will control the housing and how much is charged for rent, for example — that will depend on the proposals that come in from developers, Blaguszewski said.

“We need to see what the interest is and what structure makes sense,” he said. “I think the bottom line for us is we want to achieve a project ... that’s really high-quality housing, and provides a good experience for students and is accessible.”

In its press release, the university noted that the UMass Building Authority will issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.