DEVENS — When Devens closed its doors of the largest part of its Army base 20 years ago, no one knew exactly what would become of the 4,400 acres.
Now, we do.
“You’re here to see the results of your visions set out 20 years ago,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones at a lunch in Devens celebrating the anniversary on June 10.
One of the main economic drivers for 75 years left in 1996. “Today, Devens is a place we can be very, very proud of,” she said. Since 2014, the number of jobs in Devens increased by 1,000, to 4,977. The economic impact jumped up $1 billion to $2.5 billion.
The success is due to industries and government working together, she said.
When the base closed in 1994, it was “much like a wet, heavy blanket coming on the communities like a cloud,” said Lt. Gov. Karen Polito.
“Today we celebrate Devens as a community,” she said. It has its own zip code and 2,000 residents.
The three most important ingredients are available, Polito said. These are quality schooling provided by the Harvard Public School system, safety and employment, whether in Devens or for commuters.
“You have really pioneered the way,” Polito said to the more than 150 guests that included folks that were key in making the redevelopment happen.
The award-winning development model is used for other base closings around the nation, she said.
Bill Weld, who was governor when the closing occurred, praised the redevelopment when he spoke. The history books are full of failures, but thanks to government officials working together, the funding for the project was secured, said Weld, now the vice presidential nominee for the Libertarian party.
In a recorded interview, Marty Meehan spoke of the role the local newspapers owned by Frank Hartnett Sr. played in making the redevelopment a success. Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts, was the congressional representative for the district when Devens closed.
“He had it on the front page of all his papers,” he said of Hartnett. “Senator Kennedy loved to read it.”
Those newspapers were the papers that are now the Nashoba Valley Voice.
Hartnett, who was not in attendance, together with Lowell Sun photographer John Love, were honored at the celebration for the role the papers played. Love covered just about everything that happened over the past 20 years, said Dona Neeley, the Devens Eco-Efficiency Center director, when she gave the awards.
Twenty individuals and businesses were honored for the part they played and continue to play in Devens. Recipients included residents, nonprofit groups, businesses and government officials.
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