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Devens celebrates 10th year of growth with time capsule

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DEVENS — Federal, state and local officials joined residents and other visitors on the Devens Common to celebration 10 years of development at the former Fort Devens.

Highlights included the placement of the first of many artifacts into a time capsule to be buried on the common. The very first was a handmade quilt by students at the Guild of St. Agnes.

Speakers at Tuesday’s event included master of ceremonies and MassDevelopment Chief Executive Officer Robert Culver, MassDevelopment Office of Economic Development Secretary Ranch Kimball, Devens Historical Museum Executive Director Ian Meisner, Devens Reserve Forces Commander Lt. Col. Caryn Heard, and state reps. James Eldridge, D-Acton; Robert Hargraves, R-Groton; Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton; and Cong. Martin Meehan.

A luncheon reception at which the museum’s new “Then and Now” exhibit was unveiled took place after the ceremony in MassDevelopment offices.

”Ten years ago the Army handed over the keys to MassDevelopment to replace 7,000 jobs lost and make the (site) an economic magnet,” Culver said. “This celebrates all that has been done and what will be done. Recent developments demonstrate what a special plan this is.”

He noted that the common is a critical selling point to business, the award-winning Red Tail Golf Course is a big draw and 200,000 visitors came in last year. More than $430 million has been invested in the region in the past 10 years and the salaries of workers average $51,000, he said.

”Included is a major international pharmaceutical cooperation’s interest called Project Hummingbird. Stay tuned for a possible announcement sometime in June,” Culver said. “The Northeast Economic Development Association has named Devens project of the year for large-scale projects.”

MassDevelopment is “mindful of the honor we’ve got” and “humbled by the privilege to be able to do what we do,” said Kimball.

Devens employs 4,200, a $178 million payroll has grown to $220 million 10 years later and 2,100 acres of open space have been preserved, he said.

Culver credited the work of former MassDevelopment CEO Michael Hogan — 1996 to 2003 — and of Jeffrey Simon, the former director of the Devens Division of the Massachusetts Land Bank, before pausing to call attention to new arrivals Treasury Secretary Timothy Cahill and Rep. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster.

Heard reminded the audience that in 1917 Camp Devens sent 100,000 soldiers to war and welcomed 150,000 home. It became Fort Devens in 1932. She described the Reserve Forces Training Area — formed April 1, 1996 — as an “Army flagship, premier training site” with 5,200 acres; 53 tenant organizations; 2,800 soldiers, sailors and Marines; and 134 facilities.

She noted a $91 million urban assault course is slated for opening in 2007.

”Just as our soldiers have a duty to our nation, our nation has a duty to those who serve, who have served, and who will serve,” Heard said, presenting a U.S. flag to Meehan, who deposited it in the time capsule.

Culver thanked Funeral Director Jack McAffigan, of Pepperell, for providing the capsule.

”All three of these legislators (Eldridge, Hargraves and Resor) are truly from and of this community and are wise in what they do,” Culver said.

”The passing of 10 years has been incredible for me because I was there with a similar gallery then,” Resor said. “Frank Harnett Sr., for one, has solidly supported Devens and many of you continue to do so.

”Ten years ago we saw the need for jobs most critical, and we were unsure of the job creation we’ve seen,” she said. “We look forward rather than backward,” she said, presenting a citation from the state Senate for the time capsule.

”Some very important decisions for the future will be coming up,” Hargraves said. “We look forward to (residents) making decisions based on the best interests of their towns.”

He presented a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for the capsule.

”It has been a real pleasure to work with Sen. Resor, Rep. Hargraves, Cong. Meehan and sens. Kennedy and Kerry,” Eldridge said.

In its younger days, Devens was always a “military base on which to celebrate July 4,” Eldridge said. He had been an aide to Rep. Robert Durand who had been key in passing the bond for Devens.

”To me Devens is a lot of things,” Eldridge said. “The communities of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley that have worked long and hard, the businesses that took a risk to stake down territory, the civic organizations like Loaves and Fishes and Sylvia’s Haven, and the media with Nashoba Publishing making the rally cry that Devens not be forgotten.

”It is the work of MassDevelopment. How hard it is to promote economic development while balancing environmental concerns, housing, education and leadership excellence?” Eldridge asked. “And Devens is the residents. No one knew what may be looked at, as a Devens (community) or communities without representation. They have worked very hard on committees and boards and I give them my thanks and wish them well.”

Culver introduced Meehan, whom he described as an “unwavering supporter, deliverer of millions of dollars and even a zip code, 01434.”

Meehan remembered 1991 when there were four “diverse” communities involved, Ayer, Harvard, Lancaster and Shirley.

”Ayer’s unemployment was over 10 percent, and the last thing they needed to hear was the base closing,” Meehan said. “I remember Frank Hartnett, for you always visited with him for his perspective. He held people accountable. Thank you.

”When you get towns like Ayer and Harvard to sit down with different ideas and learn about each other it is wonderful,” he said. “I remember President Clinton and the Shriver Job Corps in 1994. There were 89 applicants (for the money), and the Oxbow National Refuge. When we’re finished, 5,000 acres will be turned over.”

Meehan noted transportation “successes” such as improving the Jackson Road interchange and defense business successes such as bringing in American Superconductor “who will develop a motor to be used in DDX destroyers and create local jobs.”

He credited Culver and Hogan for creating a “model” for base closures.

”I tell senators and congressmen to look at Devens,” Meehan said, presenting a proclamation from the U.S. House for the time capsule.

He complimented developer Robert Walker’s “significant financial investment” and the creation of a “beautiful site” as well as the administrations of former govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci for their positivity.

”Whether in Washington or on Beacon Hill I’ve seen the partisan bickering that can jeopardize development,” Meehan said. “There isn’t a better example of leaders coming to the table and rolling up their sleeves to help create a public/private synergy that has created this.

”I salute all of you,” Meehan concluded. “Let’s use this as an example for the future. You can make a difference.”