By Shannon Garrido
In downtown Malden, the fate of the 22 Pleasant Street building hangs in the balance as it undergoes consideration for renovation, sparking both interest and concerns among city officials and developers.
The three-story brick office building, featuring ground floor retail along Pleasant Street, currently stands mostly vacant. Jim Sylvia, representing RD Management and collaborating with Boston-based commercial real estate agency Hunneman, is at the forefront of the redevelopment plan, dubbed ‘Innovation Place’.
Sylvia shared insights into the project, stating, “our plan in a nutshell was presented to the Historical Commission years ago, and we’ve been working on demolishing 22 Pleasant Street and building a new building.”
Sylvia and his partners now own the entire city block bordered by Main, Pleasant, Exchange, and Middlesex streets. Sylvia emphasized that the building plays a unique role as a “balance” for 6 Pleasant, the structure right next to it. This poses a challenge in the planning process to expand 22 while also preserving the historic integrity of 6 Pleasant Street. Everything on the block is considered a balance, often referring to the distribution of visual elements.
Kevin Duffy, the Deputy Director for Business and Economic Development for the city, has been closely engaged with Sylvia on this project — as well as the renovations of 200 Exchange Street and 17 Dartmouth Street—for several years.
According to Duffy, the initial plan for this renovation included making it a 12-story office tower at the rear. As of now the developer does not have the appropriate permits for that. According to Sylvia, they are assessing how to go about separating the buildings before applying for a special permit, which could allow them to build a nine-story office building at 22 Pleasant St. As Malden navigates its economic landscape, the potential uses of this building could be pivotal in shaping the city’s future.
“I know their intention was to ask for twelve-stories,” Duffy said, “but the final size will be determined at that special permit meeting, which could include not granting the permit and ending the proposal there.” A date for the special permit meeting has not been set.
Concerns about building height and density have played a role in slowing down the permitting process, according to Ward 4 city council member Ryan O’Malley. While expressing support for the project, he acknowledges the need for expedited permitting to encourage high-quality development.
The real estate market’s fluctuations, interest rates, and construction costs are factors influencing decision-making, with a shift in focus from life sciences to explore alternative development options. Despite complexities, the developers aim to revitalize the obsolete 22 Pleasant Street building, bringing new life to downtown Malden.
The initiative predates the pandemic, with initial discussions occurring when the partners met with the Historical Commission. The original vision involved constructing a life science structure, targeting medical, pharmaceutical, biotech, or other life sciences companies as main tenants.
Duffy said the concept of a life science building originated over a decade ago when he and Mayor Gary Christenson set the goal of elevating Malden’s status as a bio-ready community. According to Mass Bio, Malden is now a Platinum level biotech ready community, and Duffy expressed enthusiasm for the progress.
“To me, that’s an indicator that Malden is doing well,that we’ve actually been attracting talent and investment like this,” Duffy said.
O’Malley has been involved and aware of this project for several years, in support for the original plan to secure a special permit for transforming the building into one suitable for biotech research and development. However, circumstances have changed since then.
“Though the life science marketplace has been historically a very active market, that has cooled off naturally with interest rates rising—so we are now evaluating other options,” Sylvia explained. The cost of construction has risen significantly since 2019, impacting the decision to construct a more complex building.
Similarly, O’Malley pointed out that in Malden, changing market trends, interest rates, and construction costs should prompt developers to question if life science is always the most viable option.
“The problem is where the market is going right now,” he said. “There is a lot of lab space that has been built in the region [Malden]. And the question is whether or not there’s too much lab space.”
The burgeoning life sciences sector in Malden, offering 5,743 jobs on Indeed, holds the potential for significant contribution to the city’s economic growth. The completion of 200 Exchange Street this year, positioning it as Malden’s largest life sciences and laboratory development, and having secured leases with Discovery and Outer Biosciences, could potentially bolster employment numbers.
However, while the city anticipates decisions that will shape its economic trajectory, the fate of 22 Pleasant Street remains in limbo.
Shannon Garrido is a recent graduate of the journalism program at Emerson College. She is a former intern and contributor to Neighborhood View.