Urban Spaces CEO Breaks the Rules In Salem

Paul Ognibene at new construction project

Paul Ognibene has done it again.  After focusing on innovative work for traditional projects, the founder and CEO of Cambridge-based Urban Spaces is finding new ways to give reign to his restless drive for creative solutions to enhancing the urbancore.  In responding to a Request for Proposals for a major project in downtown Salem, Massachusetts, Paulis pushing the envelope well beyond the scope of a developer’s normal course of work.  Consider his decisions in responding to a very complex, mixed-use project that by its nature would dissuade most developers from pursuing it further.

Ognibene’s first step was to engage internationally known and respected architect, Graham Gund, with a charge to create two architectural icons – one in the form of a residential tower and one to take the form of a low-rise residential village.  Paul’s thinking was to elevate both approaches, since both are viable and both present attributes and challenges.  As with the other work of Paul Ognibene, it is his intention to create an inclusive conversation with the public and the City to arrive at a consensus-driven approach for the future physical and more ethereal aspects of any decision that will outlast all of us.  But the creative intent of Paul Ognibene didn’t stop there, and Gund was charged with re-designing the entire intersection and the entrance to the train station so that the new building, whether a high-rise or a low-rise, will have an appropriate and considered urban context.

The proposed residential work of Graham Gund is across the street from another focus of the project from the City and State’s point of view.  In fact, the aforementioned residential component on which Gund is working primarily exists to be a funding vehicle for the preservation, restoration, and re-purposing of two historic but now vacant adjacent buildings.  Paul Ognibene saw an opportunity with one of them, the former County Commissioner’s Building, a mid-19th century Neo-Classical granite structure that is the first and last impression of Salem one experiences by car or train.  Recognizing the formal stateliness of this building, Paul worked to create a relationship with the State Registry, and the result would be a new home for the Registry in architecturally and geographically appropriate quarters.  Located at the corner of what is known as “Lawyer’s Row,” the required “back-up” use for this building would be law offices.

However, it is the building adjacent to the above-described County Commissioner’s Building where Ognibene allowed his imagination to soar.  Within the confines of a to-be-restored, 19th century Victorian courthouse building, he imagined the Salem Discovery Center, a multifaceted presentation that will seek and welcome a broad range of complementary experiences, enterprises, exhibits and programs with appeal to diverse audiences of all ages and interests.  The intended tenants will be recruited from organizations and institutions that have a track record of providing activities and experiences that, while having already proven their potential for public and/or private funding, have not yet put down roots in a permanent location.

As Paul Ognibene put it, “Opportunities abound for uses that will maintain the historic character of both the exterior and the interior of this magnificent building.”  He envisions a tenant mix that could include a public access TV station and youth-focused entrepreneurial training programs  with a retail side like a used book store or a cooking school/restaurant as noted below.  Other aspects of the Salem Discovery Center also warrant mentioning.  There could be an area that conveys the history of Parker Brothers in Salem and the invention of their most famous game, Monopoly.  That particular history will be underscored with a Monopoly-themed restaurant that is intended to jump-start the hands-on experience of local youth interested in some aspect of the hospitality industry. 

Robert Clayman, a Salem resident and the visionary guiding light of the Museum of Justice, was also engaged to be a key member of the development team.  Paul Ognibene and other representatives from Urban Spaces have spoken at length with Bob about keeping and restoring a minimum of one or two of the existing and beautiful courtrooms for real-time video presentations aimed at teaching the workings, the complexities, and the genius of intent of the American judicial system. 

A focus of the Salem Discovery Center will be to house itself creatively so as not to disturb the historic detail throughout the building. As an ardent historic preservationist, Paul Ognibene reiterated one of his primary concerns about the building and stated, “We couldn’t bring ourselves to rip out part of Salem’s architectural and historical legacy, and our program for the building allows us to preserve almost all of it.”  Many real estate developers work on mixed-use projects, but few would bring as disciplined and as creative an approach to their work like Ognibene does every time out of the box.  


CEO of Urban Spaces Breaks New Ground With Own Office

By Merrill H. Diamond

One of the first things that strikes a visitor to the new headquarters of Urban Spaces is its setting behind a streetscape of mid-rise buildings that form the First Street Corridor in Cambridge.  The energy of the recently-formed commercial spine is partly the direct result of the Cambridge-based real estate development company, Urban Spaces, and its transformational work in the area.  After CEO Paul Ognibene assembled an assortment of adjacent parcels, he embarked on a series of buildings that has sparked new energy in the area.  In fact, the CambridgeSide Mall, directly across the street from the headquarters of Urban Spaces, is currently in the process of converting its upper retail floors to office space.

But it’s not just the street which captures the attention of a visitor to Urban Spaces.  The entry leads to a lobby, but not a lobby like most others.  Set off by an illuminated logo, the space eschews the typical images of development projects. Instead, Paul decided to create a boutique art gallery that derives much of its color and texture from rotating pieces of artwork provided by art consultant, Suzi Hlavacek of Boston Art.  Hlavacek’s work is no stranger to Urban Spaces as she commissioned renowned glass artist, Paul Housberg, to create a striking artistic glass mural work for the common areas of the new building, 121 First Street, which houses CarGurus and Urban Spaces.  Currently, Hlaveck is also working with Ognibene and Urban Spaces on the common areas of BRIX, a new 61-unit condominium building in burgeoning downtown Salem, Massachusetts, and is spearheading the design and installation of large art panels that are integral to the architecture of the building as well as a public street sculpture.

To the left of the lobby is the primary conference room.  Like any office that describe itself as contemporary, the conference room is replete with state-of-the-art technological features for meeting presentations and teleconferencing.  However, the similarity ends there as the wall separating the conference room from the lobby is actually a glass skyfold accordion door!  While providing privacy when closed, it can open into itself at the touch of a button, creating a large open space to accommodate larger groups for presentations, meetings, and of course, the occasional office party.

Walk to the right and one can immediately grasp the central organizational theme that evidences the vision of Ognibene and the 21st Century Office.  To the right are the offices; nothing unusual there aside from the continuation of the palette of artwork seen in the lobby.  But it’s the space in between the offices that makes this the office of the future.  Recognizing that work is both private and collaborative, the central spine between the offices consists of a number spaces that differ in size and character.  From bar stool dining geared to fostering interpersonal interactions with the office front-and-center kitchen, to the small booth space designed to mimic the typical lunch time settings.  The entire office has the air of a party in which one can withdraw or participate, depending on the objective. 

The new home of Urban Spaces mirrors the man who designed it.  Ognibene is not so much interested in impressing visitors to Urban Spaces; he is more interested in impressing the people with whom he works by providing a stimulating venue that invites creativity and collaboration for ideas.  It is not an office that needs to grow or contract with the times but, instead, has an almost timeless quality that caters to the needs of the core group of folks who work with Paul Ognibene at Urban Spaces and their guests. 

Paul Ognibene Honored

Named “Urban Developer of The Year” by Boston Real Estate Times

by Merrill H. Diamond

Paul Ognibene, the founder and CEO of Cambridge-based real estate company, Urban Spaces, has been named “Urban Developer of the Year for 2019” by the Boston Real Estate Times. The publication, which reports on all the area’s latest real estate happenings, honored Paul Ognibene and his company for the transformational impact that he and Urban Spaces’s latest projects have had on the host communities in which they work. Their projects have focused on mid-sized residential and commercial developments that revitalize and enhance emerging and established neighborhoods in the greater Boston metropolitan area.  

The Boston Real Estate Times awarded the honor to Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces for their recent projects, including five mixed-use buildings designated for office, residential, and retail uses as part of a planned unit development in the First Street Corridor of Cambridge. Urban Spaces also recently completed another Cambridge development, a 20-unit condominium building with first floor retail at 1975 Massachusetts Avenue, proximate to the Porter Square subway station. Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces are currently developing BRIX, a 61-unit condominium building with first floor retail at 65 Washington Street in downtown Salem.  The firm is alsoinvolved with the creation of affordable housing in inner-city neighborhoods, a mission-driven initiative with the City of Boston.

“I am honored to receive this recognition from a publication as respected as the Boston Real Estate Times.  I’m confident that our work will continue to live up to the standards of this prestigious award,” stated Paul Ognibene upon learning of the award.

All of the development projects that Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces undertake have one over-arching objective in common: to enrich the entire community with benefits that extend far beyond the boundaries of the subject project itself.  In that regard, some of the projects conceived by Paul Ognibene have spawned and encompassed programs such as BUILDING A BUILDING, a classroom and on-site curriculumcreated by Urban Spaces and its partners to introduce high school students to the various trade and professional careers associated with real estate development.

To learn more about the work of Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces, visit UrbanSpacesLLC.com.


Paul Ognibene

Paul Ognibene serves as the chief executive officer and founding principal of Urban Spaces. In his role, Ognibene is responsible for setting the vision for the future of the company. He oversees everything from client relationships to contract negotiations, as well as multi-million-dollar budgets of the company’s projects. Under the leadership of Paul Ognibene, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Urban Spaces has grown into an award-winning real estate development company by focusing on enhancing and transforming the communities in which it works.

Paul Ognibene and his team work to identify communities with potential for growth, analyzing Boston-area economies and examining factors such as proximity to public transportation, ample job opportunities, and strong educational systems within a community. These are key requirements for potential development sites for Urban Spaces. Once such a community is identified, the team considers a host of factors before land or property is purchased, ranging from construction costs to market rent or sales projections, in order to determine if a project is economically viable.

One of the best examples of the analytical work by Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces can be seen in Cambridge, home to Urban Spaces’s headquarters.  Over a five-year period, Ognibene and his team acquired 10 underperforming adjoining parcels along the First Street Corridor, a mixed-use neighborhood in Cambridge located within minutes of MIT and the MBTA Kendall Square and Lechmere stations.  This assemblage of land parcels is directly across the street from CambridgeSide, the mall now being transformed into a 1.2 million square foot mixed-use facility. Paul Ognibene and the company then began transforming this conglomeration of surface parking lots, light industrial buildings, windowless warehouses, and tired retail into 250,000 square feet of apartments, office, retail, and green space.

The first of these First Street Corridor projects was Axiom, a six-story structure comprised of 115 apartment units and home to a 3,800 SF the locally renowned Toscanini’s Ice Cream. Following on Axiom, Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces completed 121 First Street, a 60,000 SF, five-story building featuring 7,000  SF of ground-level retail and 53,000 SF of Class A office space, now home to CarGurus, the online automotive marketplace, and also serves as Urban Spaces’s new headquarters.  Subsequently, Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces developed 85 First Street, a 10,000 square foot retail building that is now home to Loyal Companion, a nationwide pet supply store, Sherwin-Williams, and the US Post Office.  Ognibene and Urban Spaces are now constructing Kendall East, a mixed-use residential/retail property comprised of 136 apartments, 15,000 SF of retail, a two-level 142 space parking garage, and an expansive community green space.

When completed, Urban Spaces’s work within the First Street Corridor will include over 250 residential units, 51,500 SF of office space, 40,000 SF of retail, and 250 parking spaces.  These developments will help to meet the demand for housing, office, and retail space in East Cambridge, widely regarded as the epicenter of the Life Science industry. 

To learn more about Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces, please visit PaulOgnibene.net.  This site will not only provide information about the background and experience of Paul Ognibene, but it will also provide occasional blog posts with tips and insights on how to be a better CEO in today’s ever-evolving corporate climate.  Be sure to look for The Urban Blog, an interactive presentation forum begun by Paul Ognibene to share viewpoints and ideas about real estate development.

Paul Ognibene Discusses How Cambridge is Committed to COVID-19 Relief Effort

Paul Ognibene

Massachusetts has been making great strides to help its citizens during the turbulent times of the COVID-19 crisis. Paul Ognibene notes that on a local level, Cambridge has been showing its strength by assisting in various ways.  Paul Ognibene, CEO of Cambridge-based Urban Spaces, describes just a few ways that the Cambridge community has been showing its commitment to providing COVID-19 relief efforts for those that need it most.

Cambridge Launches Relief Funds

In the same way that the state has offered an emergency relief fund (COVID-19 Relief Fund), the city of Cambridge has established the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund, a $3+ million emergency assistance fund for residents experiencing financial hardship. 

In addition, many Cambridge community members have already stepped up in various ways, including donating to the Cambridge Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund which provides grants between $200 and $1,000.    

The city of Cambridge has also postponed property tax payments for 60 days to help relieve cash flow pressure on homeowners and businesses. 

Harvard Provides Resources

Harvard’s 19 teaching hospitals are providing front-line care as well as working on vaccines and treatment options. 

Harvard Medical School has also launched the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project which provides health-related information in over 35 languages to ensure that members of the community who do not speak English can be kept well informed.

In addition, Harvard has offered space on campus to assist in health care operations. Harvard has also opened up its Harvard Square Hotel for use by Cambridge Health Alliance workers and other first responders who often need to remain close to their posts.