A Commitment to Salem

Paul Ognibene Cohasset

Locally focused developer, Paul Ognibene, helps revitalize its community with urban infill development on the heels of its 15th anniversary

The BRIX development in Salem, Massachusetts, is a great example of what the team at Urban Spaces is known for. A mid-sized residential buildout in a centrally located urban infill location, BRIX invests in the growth and revitalization of its community and relies on local talent to get it done.

Urban Spaces has invested around $30 million in this project, which falls in what CEO Paul Ognibene calls “the sweet spot” for the company’s project sizes, usually falling between 20 and 200 units. The 110,000 square-foot BRIX condominium development will offer eight one-bedroom units, 44 two-bedroom units and nine three-bedroom units. The living spaces will range in size from 800 to 1,700 square feet each, with prices starting in the mid-$400,000 range.

“BRIX is slated to be finished in late-summer of 2021,” noted Paul Ognibene. Along with its 61 units, the building will feature high-end amenities for residents, including a tranquil roof terrace where residents will enjoy views of historic downtown Salem, a club room, a pet spa for BRIX’s four-legged residents and a fitness studio. Approximately 3,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space will occupy the building’s ground floor to help “activate the north end of downtown.” According to Paul Ognibene.

Invested in local community

The BRIX project was awarded to the development team of Urban Spaces and Diamond Sinacori through an extensive request for proposal (RFP) process run by the City of Salem. According to Paul Ognibene, the City wanted to make sure any development around a former federal courthouse in the heart of Salem would live up to its expectations. He said that BRIX is poised to be a new gateway to Salem, positioned right where residents will exit the local commuter rail.

“We’re really proud to have been entrusted with that from the City,” Paul Ognibene says. “They could have selected any developer they wanted, and they selected us. Hopefully that speaks to our reputation and our willingness to collaborate with the City. With all projects, we want to make sure that they’re really well suited for the location and that they fit in with the community’s expectations.”

Although some of the landmark projects on which both Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces made its name feature more innovation than BRIX, like a micro-unit concept, which is rare for Boston, or Dana Park Place, which repurposed many school and church buildings previously owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, BRIX’s more conventional buildout is very much in tune with Urban Spaces’ company philosophy.

The Massachusetts-based real estate development company aspires to have a transformational effect on the communities it serves. Its team tries to find beautiful sites in great neighborhoods—locations that are close to public transportation, employment hubs or universities—to develop mid-sized residential and commercial projects. Salem is one such area with a lot of potential.

“I think what’s really interesting about BRIX is that it’s definitely in a burgeoning place downtown,” Paul Ognibene says. “That is exciting. Really, Salem has not seen new construction for homeownership at this level in maybe its history, or at least in some time. So, we are really excited to be part of that growth and revitalization of Salem.”


Local project, local partners

For Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces, investing in local communities around Boston also means investing in local companies. That’s why it tapped Tise Design Associates of Newton to design BRIX and Groom Construction of Salem as the general contractor for the project. Paul Ognibene noted that Urban Spaces has a great relationship with Tise and Groom.

Urban Spaces aims to work with the same pool of contractors, consultants, and architects over many jobs to build relationships of trust and loyalty, which improves outcomes. The same goes for its relationships with the neighborhoods it builds in.

“When we go into these neighborhoods, we do try to provide some benefit,” Paul Ognibene says. “In the end product, of course, there’s an improvement there that’s going to help the whole surrounding area. But also things like reusing a foundation, using panelized construction, which have a lot of benefits [for] the neighborhood. Paul Ognibene continued, “You can bring high-quality material in and assemble it very quickly so that you’re not blocking streets with deliveries, you’re minimizing noise because you don’t have nail guns going through framing. We try to be as proactive as we can to minimize the impact to the neighborhood and community as we build. And then obviously, [we’re] providing a high-quality product.”

Paul Ognibene and his company have a commitment to high-quality buildings and professional and community relationships has given it a great foundation in Salem. And, with the BRIX project, Urban Spaces has also succeeded in investing in the right location at the right time.

“We’re really excited because we’ve made a major commitment to invest in Salem,” says Paul Ognibene. “And, along with our project, there are entrepreneurs who are starting small businesses and people who are moving to Salem, really enhancing the vitality of the downtown. We’re excited to continue that into a phase two, hopefully.”

Paul Ognibene / Urban Spaces Expand Portfolio Along Cambridge’s First Street Corridor

Paul Ognibene believes one of East Cambridge’s bustling corridors is poised to become even more attractive to shoppers and those looking for a new apartment home.

A $95 million undertaking known as Kendall East is giving real estate development firm Urban Spaces and its founder and CEO, Paul Ognibene, the opportunity to bolster the area with a new mixed-use development along the popular First Street thoroughfare. The project, located on the site of the firm’s former headquarters, will feature 136 residential units and nearly 15,000 square feet of street-level retail space just across from the one million square-foot CambridgeSide shopping destination.

Paul Ognibene, founder and CEO of the firm, says the project will ultimately go a long way toward enhancing the growth of the area, which stretches between the MBTA’s Kendall Square and Lechmere subway stations.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of activity in East Cambridge,” Paul Ognibene says. “We’ve been playing a part in that and doing what we can to add even more vitality to the neighborhood.”

Kendall East will feature a green space mid-block connector, pet-friendly amenities, a two-level underground parking garage with 142 spaces, and surface parking for the retail destinations—a valuable commodity in the busy urban center. The development will also include over 150 spaces for bicycle parking, another focus of Paul Ognibene and his efforts towards creating and maintaining a healthy environment.

If all goes according to plan, Paul Ognibene says Kendall East should be completed in 2021. The buildings were designed by architect Perkins Eastman and are being constructed by Tocci Building Corporation.

Who’s on First (Street)?

Kendall East won’t be the only development of Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces along the First Street Corridor—the company has assembled ten properties along First Street in the last seven years.

The Axiom, a 115-unit apartment building with 3,800 square feet of ground-floor retail space, home to the iconic Toscanini’s Ice Cream, was the first Paul Ognibene / Urban Spaces foray into the First Street Corridor. The contemporary-looking building earned acclaim for its half-mile proximity to the renowned MIT campus and an overall walkability score of 91. Construction was completed several years ago and units were quickly leased.

Another predecessor to Kendall East was completed by Paul Ognibene / Urban Spaces in September 2018 on the former site of Big John’s Mattress Factory. The five-story office building at 121 First Street features 51,500 square feet of Class A office space and 6,700 square feet of first-floor retail. Paul Ognibene noted that Urban Spaces recently opened its new headquarters on the first floor of the building. The majority of the building is leased to the online automotive research company, CarGurus.

In addition, Paul Ognibene / Urban Spaces completed a stand-alone, 10,000 square-foot retail space along the First Street Corridor in September 2019. What once was considered an underutilized warehouse is now a home to Loyal Companion pet supply store, a Sherwin-Williams paint center, and a United States Post Office.

Thinking tiny can be huge

While the lure of spacious apartments and retail space might appeal to the average city dweller, other projects undertaken by Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces have taken a different tack altogether.

For example, Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces co-developed 180 micro-units at 1047 Commonwealth Avenue adjacent to Boston University. The building features a flagship Caffé Nero coffee house and pushes the very boundaries of minimal living space, the unit sizes averaged 350 square feet. As the Boston Globe reported in September 2016, the entire six-story building was rented by the university to house incoming students—a sure win for the development firm.

“If you have a well-designed, carefully thought-out space and then integrate in things like movable furniture and other features to make a small space more efficient, micro-units can really be quite livable,” Paul Ognibene says.

Relatively affordable rents were a departure from the high residential pricing associated with the greater Boston area, making the micro-units a popular offering. At the time of completion, Ognibene says the project was the largest micro-unit apartment building in the United States.

“1047 Comm. Ave. is a great building because it gives people the opportunity to live in the city, pay less rent than they would otherwise, and still have a terrific living experience,” Paul Ognibene says.

Paul Ognibene and Urban Spaces continue to shape and expand the development firm’s portfolio in new ways, creating transformative residential and commercial projects in New England for years to come.

Urban Spaces CEO Responds To RFP

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.