River's Edge opening moves closer

By Travis Andersen

River’s Edge, a 200-acre development along the Malden River nearly 15 years in the making, will have new tenants this summer, marking a vital step in a project spanning three cities.

The project — originally called TeleCom City, when the idea was to attract Internet companies to the site, a plan that fizzled with the dot-com bust — is shared by Malden, Medford, and Everett.

‘‘You get a before-and-after feeling,’’ said Malden Mayor Richard Howard, who first began working on the project when he took office in 1996. ‘‘It was really kind of an end-of-nowhere location that now is a new front door.’’

‘‘We’ve taken it from an area which was 100 percent polluted in a rundown area into what we like to call an environmental miracle,’’ said Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn, who started with the project in 1994.

The new River’s Edge includes a four-story, 115,000 square-foot office building and a luxury apartment complex near the Wellington Station T stop built on a former industrial park. The development’s crown jewel is Malden River Park, which spans 10 acres and is open daily to the public from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park has paths for running, skating, and biking, as well as a large all-purpose sports field. Tufts University has a boathouse on the site for its crew program, and area high school teams also use the river for rowing.

None of it came easily. Backed by state and federal funding starting in 1996, TeleCom City lacked just one thing: telecom companies.

The project was renamed River’s Edge in 2004, and Preotle, Lane and Associates — which signed on as the chief developer in 2000 — added a housing component in 2005 at the urging of the Romney administration and with the three cities’ approval. Preotle sank about $50 million into cleaning the dank Malden River, building energy-efficient facilities, and creating the park, which opened in 2008.

Criterion Development Partners owns the apartment complex, which will have 222 units. Construction began in May 2008, with completion on target for February.

Criterion will make 40 units available for rent in August. Heather Boujoulian, a Criterion development manager, said several tenants already have signed leases, with tours of the facility scheduled throughout the summer.

Rents start at $1,350 a month for studios; $1,650 for one-bedrooms; $2,200 for two-bedrooms; and $2,800 for three-bedroom apartments. Boujoulian said the company receives several calls each day, with ‘‘split interest’’ in the one and two-bedroom apartments.

The complex will have 34 affordable units for households earning 120 percent of the area’s median income. Affordable one-bedroom rents start at $1,420, and two-bedrooms start at $1,830.

Boujoulian said Criterion remains optimistic that it can fill the entire complex, despite the down economy. The company recently launched a website for the property, highlighting what it calls its prime location.

‘‘Our location is very unique, since we are waterfront on the Malden River and only a few short minutes from Wellington Station,’’ Boujoulian said. ‘‘We anticipate a lot of interest from people who are looking for the convenience of the train and proximity to [Boston], but want to live in a more serene environment.’’

One company is scheduled to move into the fourth floor of the office complex in November, said Phil Giunta of Grubb and Ellis, leasing agent for the property. He declined to name the company.

Giunta said Grubb is negotiating with a second company that wants to rent the third floor and part of the second, though no agreement has been signed. Grubb has led between 12 and 14 tours of the facility in the last six months, Giunta said, and has made leasing offers to a few groups. But to date, the firm has just one signed letter of intent.

Rents will start in the mid-to-upper $30,000 range per square foot per year. Like Criterion, Grubb is banking on the location to attract tenants during an economic dry spell.

‘‘We’re very happy with the level of [interest],’’ Giunta said. ‘‘And it’s due to the fact that the site offers free parking and direct access to public transportation. It offers a unique feel, especially with the surrounding walkways.’’

Giunta credited John Preotle of Preotle, Lane for developing a plan to beautify the area with lush, tree-lined walkways and other features. Preotle referred a Globe inquiry to Giunta.

The cities have agreed to share the revenue from the development, based on the percentages of ‘‘impacted land’’ within their borders. Medford stands to gain the most revenue from the office and apartment units, with nearly 89 percent of both complexes lying within its borders.

Medford will receive about $460,000 next year from the apartments and office complex, while Malden will get $51,000, according to the Malden Redevelopment Authority, which serves as the project manager to the Mystic Valley Development Commission on River’s Edge.

Criterion, which bought the apartment complex from Preotle last year, has spent about $30 million on the project.

Future plans include two new office buildings in Medford; office space with a bank and café in Malden; and 530,000 square feet of offices in Everett, slated mainly for renewable energy and biotech companies. Mystic Valley Development Commission officials expect to sign a development agreement with Berkeley Investments, the owners of a 40-acre site within the project area. The commission hopes to sign the deal within 90 days, according to Malden officials.

‘‘It’s very exciting to know that the fruits of our labor have paid off,’’ said McGlynn. ‘‘Station Landing [another mixed-use development in Medford] has brought in over $5 million for us. We hope to see the same at River’s Edge as it continues to build out.’’