Industrial Urbanism & Complex Urban Real Estate Assets

Posted on 25Apr

The Matrix Property Group manages real estate in the urban industrial, manufacturing, office and retail sectors of the Greater Boston market. The company has witnessed dramatic shifts in the use of, and demands on, real estate in these sectors. Every day we work to satisfy tenant requirements using our know-how of electricity, plumbing, heating ventilation and air conditioning, fire and security alarms, and geothermal cooling, together with administrative, accounting, and legal expertise, for the successful management of complex urban real estate assets. This Matrix blog post series kicks-off with an overview of the concept of industrial urbanism and how the properties we manage exist within their respective built-up locations. The Ames Business Park, Somerville, MA, the company’s trophy urban project, has become the entrepreneurial epicenter of Somerville and home to dozens of start-up’s including a brewery, rock climbing gym, t-shirt maker, artists, hackers, makers, green-tech/clean tech incubation and several interesting warehousing operations. The campus is dubbed the “Innovation Village”. We’ve sought to be creative with clear height, parking, and street level loading dock access. Each tenant space has been adaptively re-scaled from a large, industrial production facility to a small-scaler scale space, located within an innovative multi-tenant campus. Over $10M in renovations have been completed to-date. Businesses at the Ames Business Park have moved from consumptive production to clean and sustainable processes; from needing a relatively unskilled labor pool, to a growing need for an educated and specialized workforce. Just about each tenant is involved in some manner with an emerging technology or an important new process that has the potential to create high quality domestic-based jobs. In addition to our day-to-day work, Matrix seeks to facilitate partnerships between businesses, nonprofit and public companies and agencies to enhance business, strengthen families and sustain and respect the neighborhoods around the campus. We’ve even gone as far as building partnerships with the local high school by hosting a summer internship program. All this is accomplished by working within the standards and regulations required to achieve urban retrofitting while maintaining safe, productive places to work.


The Matrix Property Group manages real estate in the urban industrial, manufacturing, office and retail sectors of the Greater Boston market. The company has witnessed dramatic shifts in the use of, and demands on, real estate in these sectors. Every day we work to satisfy tenant requirements using our know-how of electricity, plumbing, heating ventilation and air conditioning, fire and security alarms, and geothermal cooling, together with administrative, accounting, and legal expertise, for the successful management of complex urban real estate assets. This Matrix blog post series kicks-off with an overview of the concept of industrial urbanism and how the properties we manage exist within their respective built-up locations. The Ames Business Park, Somerville, MA, the company’s trophy urban project, has become the entrepreneurial epicenter of Somerville and home to dozens of start-up’s including a brewery, rock climbing gym, t-shirt maker, artists, hackers, makers, green-tech/clean tech incubation and several interesting warehousing operations. The campus is dubbed the “Innovation Village”. We’ve sought to be creative with clear height, parking, and street level loading dock access. Each tenant space has been adaptively re-scaled from a large, industrial production facility to a small-scaler scale space, located within an innovative multi-tenant campus. Businesses at the Ames Business Park have moved from consumptive production to clean and sustainable processes; from needing a relatively unskilled labor pool, to a growing need for an educated and specialized workforce. Just about each tenant is involved in some manner with an emerging technology or an important new process that has the potential to create high quality domestic-based jobs. In addition to our day-to-day work, Matrix seeks to facilitate partnerships between businesses, nonprofit and public companies and agencies to enhance business, strengthen families and sustain and respect the neighborhoods around the campus. We’ve even gone so far as to build partnerships with the local high school by hosting a summer internship program. All this is accomplished by working within the standards and regulations required to achieve urban retrofitting and maintaining safe, productive, places to work.


One of the Matrix managed properties, the Ames Business Park in Somerville, MA, was a winner in the IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) landscape contest for urban design $2,000+. The courtyard is a sustainable urban meadow where nature and the environment intersect with work. Congratulations to the Matrix Property team and it’s subcontractors on the project, Garden Rhythm Design team and Oakwood Construction! Nice work!

12186378_1002964813080589_7951458292326751417_o (2) 15 Ames BP 012 Landscape 15 Ames BP 029 Landscape 15 Ames BP 040 LandscapeCertificate


In Somerville, shuttered factory now a hub of innovation.

In Somerville, shuttered factory now a hub of innovation

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The obituary of the Ames Safety Envelope Company was written in February 2010. The Somerville company had grown to about 600 employees in the mid-20th century, making sturdy envelopes, boxes, and file folders for medical records. But as the world started going digital, its business shrank, and eventually Ames was bought by a Wisconsin company rolling up similar manufacturers.

The last 150 jobs at Ames vanished in 2010. Most of the equipment was sold at auction, and the factory went dark.

Ames had once been among the biggest employers in the city — “an institution,” says Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. The question facing the city, he says, was “What do we do with all this land and these buildings?”

With the recession dragging on, the descendants of Ames’ founder considered selling the property, but weren’t sure they could find a buyer. And they fretted over filling the 290,000-square-foot complex with tenants. “I thought it was an almost impossible task,” says Arthur Fitzgerald, grandson of the company’s founder, John W. Fitzgerald.

Skip ahead four years: The final chunk of space in the Ames complex was leased this month. And what is now known as the Ames Business Park is not only fully occupied, it also has become the entrepreneurial epicenter of Somerville, home to a brewery, dozens of start-ups, a pinata maker, an electric guitar maker, a climbing gym, coffee roaster, t-shirt printer, artists, bicycle hackers, and a team building a giant, eight-legged walking robot called Stompy.

It’s a more diverse blend of people and ideas than you’d find in Kendall Square — in part because rent is cheaper — and it’s more densely-packed than Boston’s Innovation District. Curtatone calls it a “village of innovation,” and it has a neighborly, rooted vibe that you don’t typically find in a business park.

The growth of Ames Safety Envelope was a story of entrepreneurship in an earlier era. Ames was founded by Fitzgerald, a former postal worker, in 1919, to produce more durable and tamper-proof envelopes. (He chose the name Ames because it sounded American rather than Irish.) Later, the company developed color-coded files to hold medical records and packaging for floppy disks.

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Ames employed wave after wave of new arrivals: first Irish and Italian, and later Brazilian and Cape Verdean. Revenues at one point hit $70 million, but by the time Tab Products of Wisconsin acquired Ames, sales had shrunk to about $25 million.

My tour of the Ames Business Park earlier this month began and ended with microorganisms and beverages.

Greentown Labs is a shared facility for startups focused on energy and the environment. It was founded in 2010 in East Cambridge, but nudged out of that neighborhood, and then Boston’s Innovation District, by demolitions, renovations, and increasing rent.

Among the 49 startups operating at Greentown are Loci Controls and Refresh Water. Loci is developing a system to control the collection of methane gas at landfills, which is produced by bacteria that eat garbage. It can be a challenge to extract the gas efficiently so it can be burned to produce electricity, as well as keep a lid on the foul methane smell.

Refresh is developing a vending machine that sells filtered water (plain, sparkling, and flavored) in a refillable pouch. That reduces the cost and energy required to ship water in bottles to a network of machines. The first Refresh machine will be installed on MIT’s campus this fall, chief executive Sean Grundy says.

Greentown also hosts seminars, company showcases, and a bimonthly mixer called Energy Bar. Among the tenants at Ames, it is the only one to receive government incentives to locate there: Somerville provided a $300,000 working capital loan, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center supplied a $190,000 grant.

A few steps away is Artisan’s Asylum, another shared space, and the tenant that sparked the rebirth of the Ames complex. Artisan’s was looking for room to grow in 2011, and the Fitzgerald family offered a flexible deal that allowed the nonprofit to pay for space as it expanded. “We took about 25,000 square feet at first,” says co-founder Gui Cavalcanti, “and now we’re at 40,000.” Cavalcanti teaches classes on robotics and is supervising the construction of Stompy, a project that raised nearly $100,000 online.

About 300 artists, entrepreneurs, and “weekend warriors” have memberships to Artisan’s Asylum, which start at $60 a month. They get access to a woodshop, metalshop, jewelry studio, and other facilities. Among members I met were K. Gretchen Greene, a former Boston attorney who quit her job last year to make steel sculptures, and Ecco Pierce, who makes illuminated jewelry and clothing.

Pierce also creates small sculptures using a handheld tool called the 3Doodler, which spits out streams of plastic. It was developed at the Asylum by a startup called WobbleWorks.

Next door to Artisan’s is Brooklyn Boulders, a cavernous climbing gym where several dozen members slowly ascend the walls, or drop down from belaying ropes. On a mezzanine level, there’s space for members to sit and work on laptops. A coffee stand run by Triangle Coffee — a new start-up, of course — opened in the lobby this month.

My last stop is Aeronaut Brewing Co., which opened in June. Co-founder Ben Holmes tells me that 800 people recently filled the brewery and the paved courtyard outside for an event called “Bands! Bacon! Beer!” Adjacent to the brewery is what Holmes calls the Foods Hub; businesses like Barismo, a coffee roaster, and Somerville Chocolate sublet space.

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When I arrived on a Friday afternoon, Holmes was supervising preparations for another special event, directing a barbecue truck to a parking space. Aeronaut just leased the last 6,000 square feet in the complex to set up a yeast lab while ramping up beer production. “This is the most fun thing I’ve ever been involved with,” Holmes says.

While the 43 tenants in the Ames complex don’t yet employ the 600 people that Ames Safety Envelope once did, property manager Tom Connery says that “on any peak night, we probably have as many people here as once were at Ames,” taking classes, climbing, or working on hobbies, art, and side projects. “This place pulses at night,” Connery says. (By most estimates, the complex now employs at least 150 — about the number working at Ames when it shut down in 2010.)

Now, the question for Somerville is how to encourage similar “innovation villages” to spring up. What happened at the Ames complex was a rare confluence of empty industrial space, entities eager to fill it, and a light touch when it came to planning and marketing. Somerville is working to compile a list of similar properties, and to create “fabrication” districts in its zoning code, to prevent old warehouses and factories from being converted into housing.

Ames, says Mayor Curtatone, “has really had an impact on our thinking as policy-makers about how to preserve such spaces, to allow for more startups and ideas to flourish in Somerville, and to grow that new economy in our city.”

Magic can be hard to replicate — but it’s worth trying.

Timeline of the former Ames factory

1938 John W. Fitzgerald, who started Ames Safety Envelope in 1919, buys an 18,000 sq. ft. building at 21 Vine Street (now Properzi Way) in Somerville. The company makes envelopes as well as some filing pockets and folders. One building in the complex had been part of the American Tube Works, founded in 1851 to make brass and copper tubes for locomotives and ships.

1980s to 1990s — Ames is Somerville’s largest employer and the largest provider in the country of color-coded filing products to the health care industry, with over 40 percent market share. Sales peak at about $70 million, and employment at just over 600 employees.

2010 — Most of the assets of Ames Safety Envelope are sold to Tab Products of Wisconsin. John Fitzgerald’s descendants still own the property, and begin looking for tenants.

2011 — Artisan’s Asylum rents space in the complex. The nonprofit offers members access to a machine shop and also teaches classes in everything from jewelry-making to welding to robot-building. Members can also rent workspace.

2013 — Greentown Labs, a shared office and prototyping space for energy-related businesses, announces it will move to the complex, and the Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym opens.

2014 — Aeronaut Brewing Company opens a production facility, tasting room, and Foods Hub, which sublets space to other food-related companies. By August, the Ames complex is completely full.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner and on betaboston.com.

You can view this article on the Boston Globe website by clicking here.


GTL1On July 18, Mayor Curtatone’s dream of making his hometown into “Innovation City” came one step closer to reality when Greentown Labs, a cleantech-focused startup incubator formerly based in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, announced its decision to relocate to Somerville.

Although home to innovation-oriented organizations such as Artisan’s Asylum andFringe Union, Somerville has not historically been a major hub of the Boston-area innovation ecosystem. But with the arrival of Greentown Labs, that may soon change. In an op-ed piece in the Somerville Times, the mayor wrote that “Greentown’s move isn’t the start of a movement. It’s a sign that an urban renaissance already underway is picking up speed, with Somerville at the vanguard.”

An incubator is an organization that provides work space, mentoring and other assistance to fledgling startups. Entrepreneurs will typically move their young business into an incubator after graduating from college or university and stay until they have raised enough capital to move into their own space.

There are many incubators in and around Boston, but Greentown Labs is unusual in two ways. First, it is focused on cleantech, or technology geared toward sustainability. And second, nearly all the businesses it houses are developing actual physical objects, many of which are quite large, rather than the software and apps that constitute the Boston-area tech scene’s more usual fare.

The latter factor explains why, after two years in Fort Point, Greentown needed a new home: prototyping heavy equipment takes a lot of space, and they didn’t have enough of it.

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“In the beginning,” says Executive Director Emily Reichert, “we had plenty of space, but toward the end we started filling everything. It was so crowded on the shop floor, it was almost like you couldn’t build your prototype without smacking into someone else. And so, for us, that was really the driving factor – we had to have more prototyping space, because that’s what we uniquely offer, that no one else does.”

On top of that, the neighborhood had become unaffordable. When they settled there in early 2011, their 14,000-square-foot space cost them $8 per square foot. But just two years later, thanks in part to the City of Boston’s “Innovation District” initiative – an aggressive rebranding campaign aimed at revitalizing the underutilized Seaport District – rents in Fort Point climbed as high as $45 per square foot.

“Rent is our main source of revenue,” says Reichert, “and there was no way we’d pass on $45 per square foot to entrepreneurs. So it basically became impossible for us to stay in the neighborhood.”

As Reichert and her team began shopping for new spaces, they had two main criteria. First, their new home needed to be somewhere on the Red Line corridor. Given the intimate symbiosis of the Boston-area innovation ecosystem, with entrepreneurs shuttling constantly between MIT, Harvard, Kendall and Fort Point, a location outside the range of public transit would not be feasible for many potential residents. Second, it had to be large enough – and cheap enough – to provide ample prototyping space for 25 startups and counting.

In a city as small and dense as Boston, finding a place that met both qualifications was not easy. They found a handful of suitable spaces in other corners of the Innovation District, like the Leather District and the Drydock area, but they knew it would only be a matter of time before the inevitable rising rent would price them out once again. They also looked in Cambridge, but could find nothing under $35 per square foot.

In March, Reichert reached out to the mayor’s office to pitch the idea of moving Greentown Labs to Somerville. They met with City Development Directors Michael Glavin and Ed O’Donnell, who pounced on the idea and ran with it. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Curtatone visited Greentown Labs in Fort Point.

“I think he fell in love with the place,” says Reichert. “From that point, his team was pushing us to move here. They were recruiting us hardcore. It was awesome.”

And after seeing the cavernous expanse of the old Ames factory, the Greentown Labs team knew they’d found a match. The space, which had been vacant since 2010, offered five times the square footage of their original location, at a mere $7.50 per square foot. That, and just minutes from the flourishing yet still affordable urban hub of Union Square, it was only a fifteen minute walk from the Red Line. “Entrepreneurs can afford to live, work and play here,” says Reichert. “There’s not too many places where you can say that.”

The Greentown Labs Board made the decision to move to Somerville on June 10. After securing a $300,000 working capital loan from the Somerville Innovation Fund, they went public with their new location on July 18, signed the lease on July 30, started building out on August 5 and moved in on September 23 – a whirlwind undertaking that, according to Reichert, may well have been “the fastest buildout ever.”

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In addition to the loan, the City has also begun to help Greentown Labs out in another crucial way: by acting as a guinea pig for some of the companies’ products. For instance, one company, Refresh, is developing a water vending kiosk that “filters, flavors, carbonates and bottles water at the point of use, instead of in a bottling plant.” When Mayor Curtatone heard about the project, he suggested that the City could install one in a school or municipal building. That way, when companies go to potential investors, they can say that they’ve already had a pilot program with the City of Somerville, who gave them feedback and helped them improve their product.

“That’s so key to having these companies be successful,” says Reichert. “It’s a very virtuous circle, of Somerville being able to be more innovative, and at the same time helping the companies here to grow and get investment money.”

Reichert is optimistic about the difference that Greentown Labs will be able to make in their new community. Since September, the resident companies, whose total employees number more than 100, have already created 10 new jobs, and will continue to hire local talent as they expand. When the larger companies outgrow the incubator and strike out on their own, Reichert expects that many of them will want to stay in Somerville, especially given the great wealth of underutilized space all around town.

She also looks forward to building partnerships with Somerville’s community of local artisans, crafters, urban homesteaders and other DIY innovators. With Greentown Labs’ emphasis on hands-on technology rather than pure IT, as well as its ethos of sustainability, it could hardly be a more perfect fit for the local culture.

“We’re a magnet for our entrepreneurs,” says Reichert, “but then they come here and they fit – they like it here.”


The Innovators: Brooklyn Boulders

Check out the video here!

Brooklyn Boulders Somerville, with its 38,000 square feet of space and a ground floor the size of a football field, is actually more than a rock climbing gym it’s a blank slate for innovation and collaboration, a unique hybrid community center.


Aeronaut Brewery opening in Union Square plans to double as startup accelerator

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Craft beer brewing is the unofficial pastime of Greater Boston’s startup community, but Ben Holmes is making it his full-time job.

TBD Brewing, the tiny Union Square suds maker that has been operating out of a house, has rebranded as Aeronaut Brewery and just signed a lease on 12,000 square feet of warehouse space on Tyler Street in Somerville.

On a side note, that’s the same street where the Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing gym and coworking space opened over the summer, and where Artisan’s Asylum and Greentown Labs also make camp. The four sit side by side, setting up quite the innovation strip when Aeronaut gets up and running early next year. I can’t wait for the day when they join forces to build a zero-emission robot that runs on lager and can scale a rock wall.

Aeronaut’s brewhouse is not much to look at yet, but Holmes and co-founders Dan Rassi, Ronn Friedlander and Steve Reilly have a clear vision of the future: A mecca for the microbrew crowd that is capable of producing 60,000 bottles at a time and also features a tasting bar with about 20 beers on tap at any given time.

And that’s in just a third of the space. The rest will be sublet to four (for now) urban agriculture startups, including a farmer’s market scheduled to open in January.

In addition, the Aeronaut team is close to leasing another nearby space (Holmes said he couldn’t tell me exactly where) that will help it launch Coolship Labs, an accelerator program for science startups that, fittingly, rely on fermentation. Yes, fermentation is used to make booze, but it also can be used to make things like biodegradable plastics.

The master plan is for Aeronaut to make enough money on rent from its paying tenants to cover, or at least mitigate, the brewery’s costs. The four co-founders will invest profits from the brewery business into a venture capital fund that they will use to seed startups in Coolship Labs. Startups will get $25,000 and free workspace for six months to a year, in exchange for 5 to 12 percent of their companies.

At the end of their program cycle, the startups will either move out or move into Aeronaut’s incubator and start paying rent. And as the young companies grow, launching IPOs or being acquired, the Aeronaut founders will reap additional profits from their equity stakes.

“The idea is that it completes a closed loop,” Holmes explained: “The incubator funds the brewery, the brewery funds the startups, the startups graduate to the incubator. And all the while, there’s a recurring exit when startups go public or are bought.”


Union Square is Hipster Central

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SOMERVILLE — Move over, Cambridge. These days, anyone seeking a countercultural adventure comes to Somerville. Some say it started with the end of rent control in 1995, a move that pushed Cambridge’s students and creative class to seek lower rents. Others point to the innovation-friendly city policies promoted by Mayor Joseph Curtatone. Whatever. The 2010 Census found Somerville had the second-highest proportion of residents between the ages of 25 and 34 in the United States, behind Hoboken — but ahead of Cambridge. And while the city as a whole has been pushing the style envelope, Union Square is its hipster epicenter, with the kind of local focus and accessibility that make it an easy, and fun, day trip.

What gives a place that trendy edge? Well, artisanal foods are one hallmark of hipster havens. Therefore, it only makes sense to start the day at Union Square Donuts. These house-made pastries have been popping up at farmers’ markets and food fests across the city, but the mothership is right in Union Square — tucked into a tiny space inside the former Café Tango. Whether you opt for the maple bacon or salted bourbon caramel (or one of the other approximately 10 varieties offered daily), get there early. Although the doughnut makers are promising more daily flavors when they move from their current space two doors down next month, they’re not likely to change their early hours. And these pastries are made fresh each morning: When they run out, that’s it for the day.

Skinny jeans feeling a little tight after those doughnuts? While Union Square has its share of exercise outlets (likeBe Yoga or CrossFit Somerville), why not try something a bit more new millennial? Rather than pushing your fixed-gear bike up each of Somerville’s seven hills, head to Brooklyn Boulders, where a variety of climbing walls let you scale the peaks in (safe) style. Beginners — and the skittish — can stick with top-roping, suspended from a harness, while a belayer — a cross between a spotter and a guide — takes up the slack from below. Graduate to lead climbing (Brooklyn Boulders offers certificate training), or stick with bouldering, which encourages you to clamber up either a 15- or a 22-foot cliff. Don’t worry, there’s 12 inches of padding on the floor below. (Oh, yeah, they have yoga and other fitness classes as well.)

Afraid of heights? How about acrobatics? Esh Circus Arts offers private and group instruction from real live circus professionals in everything from circus hooping to tightwire walking. When you’re ready to get off the ground, aerial fabric is one of the more popular classes, says co-owner Ellen Waylonis-May, incorporating aerial gymnastics and the kind of beautiful scarf-like silks that Cirque du Soleil made famous. Not so sure? The beginner classes are “true beginner,” promises Waylonis-May (who performs with Speakeasy Circus), starting on the ground and suited to any fitness level. Esh — the name is Hebrew for “fire,” from cofounder Rachel Stewart’s pyrotechnic specialty — also offers “taster” classes, which let you try before you commit. (And, yeah, aerial yoga and Cirque fit classes too.)

Maybe at this point you really just want more coffee — exquisitely roasted and ground varietal coffee, that is. Short of quitting your day job to apprentice as a barista, you can master the grind at Counter Culture Coffee. Going into its 19th year, the North Carolina-based purveyor opened its first New England coffee education center here a year and a half ago, with classes like the two-hour Brewing Basics and the full-day Beginner Espresso lab. Not up to a full course? Weekly coffee cuppings — or tastings — explore the beans of different regions or the brews of various preparations.

By now, you’ll have worked up an appetite again. But no matter what your dietary restriction, either theSherman Cafe and Market or Bloc 11 will have something locally sourced — and tasty. Vegan and vegetarian options range from soups to salads, with sandwiches made daily on always interesting — and, yes, artisanal — breads. The Sherman Café has the plus of incorporating the old Sherman Market, for easy shopping of pastas, cheeses, and other edibles; often the farms or purveyors are cited. (The former Sherman Market space will soon reopen as Gracie’s, serving ice cream and other treats — made on the premises, naturally.) Bloc 11, on the other hand, boasts that city luxury: a shaded outdoor space. Both tend to get crowded, but if you put away your digital device, you can share a table and make a friend.

Shelving that iPad will also allow you to indulge in a bit of hipster retro. While the rest of the world may have given up on vinyl and paper, Union Square is holding the line. Records — the old-fashioned vinyl kind — rule the roost at Somerville Grooves. Browse used 45s and uncover the occasional live “fan club only” recording of your favorite punk band. While the stock in this hot pink shop leans heavily toward rock, international sounds, as well as jazz and classical, are represented.

For those who prefer “tree books” to e-books,Hub Comics offers a well-curated collection, with comics and hard-bound collections, all displayed on beautiful wooden bookshelves salvaged from the old Globe Bookstore. Those in the know will want the latest issue of Saga, the breakout indie adult SF-fantasy, or go a bit more mainstream, with Marvel’s bad-boy Hawkeye. Not so hip? Shelves dedicated to nostalgia feature everything from Mad magazine to Archie, while artists such as R. Crumb have their own section as well.

By now, you’ll be ready to kick back. For fans of cutting-edge cocktails, that means a trip to BackBar. This tiny, windowless spot — reservations suggested — plays up its speakeasy vibe, with hip retro flair. Drinks ride the current trend for house-made bitters, but other of-the-moment options — like a crystal clear milk punch of the day — are always on offer as well. Unsure what to order? Ask the bartenders; they’re pros.

If you can’t get in — or prefer a simpler quaff — check out the brand new Aeronaut Brewery. While the cavernous former industrial space, next door to Brooklyn Boulder, serves as Somerville’s first brew pub, its owners consider it more of an “immersive experience” for all things comestible, says Aeronaut president and cofounder Ben Holmes. Relax at one of the indoor picnic tables and watch brewers and others in action. While house-brewed quaffs will take center stage — look for the roasted butternut squash-infused Lager Feuer or the hoppy Armadillo — snacks are available from a variety of small vendors and pop-up kitchens, with plans for more to come.

Save room for dinner, though. Union Square has long boasted a wide variety of ethnic specialities, from Buk Kyung (Somerville’s first Korean restaurant, opened in 1998) to El Potro (with its live mariachi music on weekends). These days, those options have been upscaled to include Bronwyn, named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Esquire magazine. Enjoy the retro-German pleasure of a giant soft bretzel (pretzel) in the biergarten or share a plate of wurst in the cozy interior.

Can’t get a table? Head to A4 Pizza, where Area Four chefs Michael Leviton, Michael Krupp, and Jeff Pond hand stretch their tangy, tasty dough from a 12-year-old starter and top it with the likes of Wellfleet littlenecks and bacon or shitake mushroom and Balfoni eggs. (They offer a fine fennel sausage and more conventional toppings as well.) This tiny restaurant gets crowded — the custom-built fire-burning oven can only crank out so many pies — but the bartender is friendly. And the soundtrack, which often features classic ’90s hip-hop, just seals the deal. By now, you’re only a few blocks from Cambridge, roughly a 20-minute walk to the Porter Square T stop. But you’ve been to the cutting edge — to Union Square — and you’ll be back.


Aeronaut Brewery Ready for Liftoff

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Aeronaut Brewing Co. is crafting adventurous suds and a culture of local food and drink on the back streets of Somerville.

It’s even the subject of a Mark Wahlberg-produced A&E pilot called “The Big Brew Theory.”

The brewery opened in June, the handiwork of three MIT postgraduate beer buds, Ronn Friedlander, Ben Holmes and Dan Rassi. They celebrated by attaching hundreds of balloons to lawn chairs and floating them above the city, videotaping the event with flying drones.

http://www.bostonherald.com/entertainment/food_dining/2014/10/aeronaut_brewing_ready_for_liftoff


Artisan’s Asylum: Building dreams, one business at a time

Watch the video here.

A stranger offers me a ride, late one night by the railroad tracks, a few blocks from the Asylum. But he knows who I am. He calls me by name.

He introduces himself. Puppy.

I want to ask Puppy who he is, how the Asylum has changed him, helped him. I’ve spent two days asking that question, and the question is changing me.

It turns out I know things Puppy wants to know, things he didn’t know I knew. We spend an hour talking. That’s what Puppy loves about the Asylum. People know so much and are so open. He tells me he can’t count how many times he has had a question and 20 people have each known a different part of the answer and been happy to tell him.

Again and again in my interviews, I hear similar stories.

Members walk down the hall and discover an expert in the very thing they have a question about. A problem that might have held up a project for weeks or months or even forever is solved in minutes.

Casual conversations lead to technical breakthroughs and to an expanding network of professional relationships and friendships.

Work moves forward even when outside businesses are closed. When a member has an immediate need for a sheet of 10ga steel, a very particular electronic component or a large piece of machinery, someone in the building has one to spare. When a job requires an extra set of hands to hold a piece in place or to lift a load, other members step in to help.

Something exciting is happening at the Artisan’s Asylum, a four year old fabrication, coworking and educational facility operating in the old Ames Envelope factory building in Somerville, MA.

Engineers and designers are creating new products. Partnerships are forming. Businesses are being created and existing businesses are growing. Members are getting jobs using the new skills and confidence they’ve acquired. Outside companies are using the Asylum as a training and fabrication resource. Hobbies are becoming professions.

Bob Field, a former advertising prop maker, found the tool training, tool access and industry information he needed to create a new business,Atomic Earrings, designing and fabricating 3D printed jewelry. After a year in business, his earrings are in 18 museum stores across the country, including the MIT Museum and the DeCordova.

James Arthur and Colin Galbraith met at the Asylum and foundedCreosphere, a web design and small business solutions consulting company. James couldn’t think of a client that didn’t come to them through their Asylum connections.

Josh Beckman left an office job in public health to start his own CNC fabrication business, Somerville Made. He said being at the Asylum let him see how to make that transition. He regularly works with other members – alternately hiring them or being hired by them.

Seth Avecilla, a former sign fabricator, used the skills and confidence he got as a member and teacher at the Asylum to get “a really cool job” running a student fabrication lab for MIT’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology.

Dave Goncalves and his engineering coworkers took a class at the Asylum when they needed to learn about hydraulics for a work project. At the same time, with his connection to the Asylum providing new clients, skills, technical ideas and motivation, Dave’s hobby of restoring vintage radios and televisions became a serious second job.

Looking at the Artisan’s Asylum as an entrepreneurial tech business incubator, the Massachusetts governor and other state and local officials, representatives of foreign governments, business schools and the press, including The Economist, have come to visit. This week, it was students from MIT Sloan and Turkey’s Sabanci University. Last month, it was Kosovo’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

But what’s happening at the Asylum isn’t only about business.

The Asylum is a very interesting mix of engineers and artists, professionals and hobbyists, of anyone who might like the idea of 40,000 square feet and a few hundred friends learning to build whatever they can dream up in the shared shop facilities: welding, metal, wood, machine, electronics, robotics, glass and jewelry, plus 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC fabrication.

It is a place of dreams and inspiration, a place of discovery and passion.

Seven, a pilot in the bike club SKUL, had no idea she would like teaching, but there was a need and she was asked. Now she says, when everything else is bad, teaching bicycle maintenance and building is the one spot of joy she can count on. Her day job is a paycheck she said, but teaching is her real purpose and contribution in the world.

Dmitri Litin, the former controller of the Asylum, characterized his role in building the organization as a period of “really intense personal and professional growth.” He said that looking back at what he and the other early members were able to accomplish at the Asylum changed the way he looks at himself and what he’s capable of. He discovered a passion and a mission he didn’t expect – “to enable and empower people to bring change into their lives.” Dmitri’s next move is to the West Coast, to build organizations in other communities that can be catalysts for personal change as the Asylum has been for many. His work at the Asylum gave him the business skills and the national visibility and reputation he needs. In the span of a week on a recent trip to Oakland, CA, he laid the groundwork for what he envisions as the first of many more organizations he will help found – developing a business plan, securing donors and developing partnerships.

Several members spoke of the Asylum community in almost utopian terms. As I talked to them, I started to understand why.

It’s a place that makes the impossible seem achievable.

It isn’t perfect. Nothing is. But it’s a vision worth fighting for.


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