DEVENS — From a field of 70-80 candidates, George Ramirez rose to the top of the resume pile to become MassDevelopment’s new executive vice president for Devens Operations in April. Ramirez replaced Richard Montuori, who left to become Tewksbury’s town manager.

Born in Colombia, Ramirez, 46, was raised in the Acre section of Lowell. Ramirez is a graduate of Lowell High School, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a 1999 graduate of Suffolk University Law School. At Suffolk Law, Ramirez sits on the board of trustees.

It’s a circuitous path that led Ramirez to Devens. Of his vocation vaulting, Ramirez jokes, “I’ve been playing in the traffic with my career.”

Ramirez served a two-year term aboard the Lowell City Council from 2005-07. He practiced primarily workers’ compensation law for six years, serving as a conciliator and assistant general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents. He left and became the deputy director and general counsel at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

While at EOHED, Ramirez managed six agencies and 80 full-time employees, aiding in economic development projects, chairing the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, and serving on the Emerging Technology Fund Advisory Committee.

With his hybrid history, Ramirez comes mixed with state and municipal experience.

“All of George’s skills make him the best candidate for the position,” said MassDevelopment’s Chief of Staff Meg Delorier. “His role with the Lowell City Council, his role in the Department of Economic Development, gave him the skill set that we were really looking for,” she said.

Delorier oversaw the selection committee, winnowing the candidate list to 10 semifinalists and then three finalists. MassDevelopment President and CEO Robert Culver “made the decision with the recommendation of the committee,” Delorier said. “As George can tell you, we put him through the ringer.”

The newness of the Devens management challenge appealed to Ramirez. “Working with the three towns, working with the selectmen, working with the senior staff, I understand their commitment to the communities. That’s really the goal here and I thought that was very attractive,” said Ramirez.

Trinity tie-in The Lowell-Devens link is not new for MassDevelopment. The chief Devens administrative post was filled several incarnations ago by Steven Joncas, a former staffer to late U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas of Lowell.

MassDevelopment is hoping to plod forward with the redevelopment of the vacant Vicksburg Square space in Devens in using the same developer that’s retooling the former Appleton Mill in Lowell — Boston-based Trinity Financial.

Ramirez was aboard the City Council when Trinity Financial introduced itself to Lowell in 2006. The developer launched a series of community meetings to gather input on how to revitalize the former mill downtown on Jackson Street.

“We sort of teed up the Hamilton Canal project…. land-takings and constituent needs that needed to be addressed,” Ramirez recalled.

That Lowell project has spun into a 10-year, $800 million phased project including residential and retail uses. Trinity Financial states there’ll be 130 one- and two-bedroom affordable artist units available for occupancy next April.

Trinity Financial assembled financing via MetLife, which purchased state and federal historic and housing tax credits for $42 million. MassHousing provided a $1.6 million permanent mortgage and a $34 million construction loan. Last fall, Gov. Deval Patrick provided a $13 million state grant.

When the dust settles, the Hamilton Canal District is to contain 450,000 square feet of commercial and office space, 55,000 square feet of retail space and 700 units of affordable-and market-rate housing.

Closer to home, Trinity originally proposed a project on the scale of 250 residential units for the 440,000 square feet of Vicksburg Square’s four main buildings and three associated structures. President Jim Keefe said community input will play a large part here, too, in the ultimate uses and number of units built.

Ramirez, like Keefe, stresses the project is a private development, and not a MassDevelopment project. Still, Ramirez and the agency hopes the Vicksburg Square redo will grow the housing stock on Devens.

There are 106 homes there now. The maximum number of homes permitted under Devens’ zoning bylaws is 282 residential units. Last year, Culver stated during a board of trustees meeting on Devens that the agency hoped to create 600 additional Devens residential units.

There are two methods available to affect the needed zoning changes to permit residential reuse of Vicksburg Square. A “Super Town Meeting” consensus among Ayer, Harvard and Shirley voters was attempted but failed in June 2009.

Another approach would be to change the zoning through the state Legislature. It’s been done before to boost the number of liquor licenses on Devens in 2003.

As to whether such a legislative effort to deal with Vicksburg Square zoning or other Devens issues may be afoot, Ramirez said, “if it’s done, it’s being done without my knowledge. It’s not happening right now.”

Working with


Ramirez says he provides monthly updates to MassDevelopment trustees. In that way, he equates the trustees to a quasi board of selectmen, with his role as a sort of town manager for the Army base caught between official- and quasi-municipal status.

“I report to Bob Culver and I also have an executive team of colleagues that I use a sounding board,” Ramirez said. Ramirez said job one is “making sure that citizens are receiving the services that they paid for.”

Of the Joint Boards of Selectmen meetings of Devens, Ayer, Shirley and Harvard leaders, Ramirez said he’s looking forward to working with the group though it’s a relationship “without real statutory standing,” he said.

“I’ve made a commitment to Bob and Meg knows — we want to work with them as much as we can on issues that matter to all four communities. There are overlapping issues and plenty of opportunities to work together,” Ramirez said. “I’m serving a lot of masters.”

“I foresee that, yes,” said Ramirez, who confirmed he’d regularly attend JBOS meetings.

Of his first face-to-face meeting with the JBOS on July 22, Ramirez said, “I enjoyed it very much. What impressed me most about the JBOS meeting that night was they asked for a motion to put together a mission statement. And I thought there’s a group of folks that want to come together to put together a common goal. It makes it a lot clearer not just for them but for MassDevelopment so we know the overlapping issues we can work together on.”

He hopes that regionalization efforts are on the front burner at JBOS and that the talk of a mission statement is “focused (and) not a discussion for the sake of discussion.”

A vocal MassDevelopment critic is Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant, who claims the agency has strayed from its mission, is faltering on its deliverables and doesn’t create new jobs on Devens as much as it steals them from other communities in the region.

Maxant faults MassDevelopment on its communication record. “I don’t disagree with him on that,” Ramirez said, inviting Maxant and the rest of the JBOS to take advantage of his open-door policy.

“I am looking forward to working with Frank. Frank and I have had three meetings in three months and I think that’s a good open dialogue. The first time we met was at this table. (Ayer selectman) Gary Luca, Frank and I met and we talked about everything under the sun,” Ramirez said.

Also, regular meetings with Devens businesses are to start in September. Ramirez is launching a business “kitchen cabinet” to serve as an advisory vehicle for Ramirez.

“That’s totally new. That’s something that in working with Bob (Culver) and MassDevelopment, we thought would be a good opportunity to roll out,” Ramirez said.

Another initiative already afoot is Ramirez’s weekly e-mails to Devens residents and businesses updating them on Devens developments directly from his office. Ramirez said he’s lending a “fresh set of eyes” to help target and address concerns for Devens stakeholders.