2017 was a year of rapid transition in Dorchester— some of it anticipated and for the better—like the newest link on the Neponset Greenway— and some of it unexpected and unwelcome, like the June fire that destroyed the six-story Treadmark building in Ashmont.
The new year will bring no let-up in the pace of change. Still, before we turn the page, it can be instructive to look back at the good, the bad, and everything in between.
• Long-awaited Neponset Greenway connection realized: The latest stretch of the Neponset River Greenway opened to the public in May. The 1.3 mile extension connects Lower Mills and Mattapan Square and includes the prominent arched Harvest River Bridge spanning the Milton and Mattapan sides of the Neponset River. A canopy walk that sweeps over the Mattapan high-speed trolley path is another highlight. The Greenway connection was a huge hit with walkers and bicyclists from all three communities and beyond.
• Good eats on Savin Hill Avenue: Honeycomb Café on Savin Hill Avenue opened in August in the former Savin Scoop space and has quickly become a fave for commuters, residents — and yes, Reporter staff— hungry for specialty sandwiches, salads, coffee and bagels.
• New dining options in Adams Corner: The Industry, the newest addition to Dorchester’s booming restaurant scene, has replaced Sonny’s, a longtime fixture in Adams Corner. The Industry has been beautifully renovated, but the real star of the show is the cuisine created by Executive Chef Stephen Coe.
• Door opens to new flavors on the Avenue: Taniya Nayak, Danielle Ferrari, and Ken Casey were pictured at a preview event in Yellow Door Taqueria in Lower Mills. The cozy, 50-seat bar and restaurant at the corner of Washington Street and Dorchester Avenue opened to the public in July to highly positive reviews. Yellow Door is the latest joint venture of Brian O’Donnell and Casey, the Dropkick Murphy’s front man who teamed up to buy and re-invent the Lower Mills Tavern, which has become a popular dining and drinking destination in the village.
• Mural celebrates Vietnamese community: Hundreds of people gathered in Fields Corner in October to watch as a colorful new mural celebrating the city’s Vietnamese community was unveiled on the side of Pho Hoà Restaurant on Dorchester Avenue. Ngoc-Trân Vu, a multimedia artist who spearheaded the mural project, received a $10,000 grant to fund the effort from Creative City Initiative of New England Foundations for the Arts (NEFA). With guidance from a steering committee, Vu and her team of artists made sure the mural reflected Vietnamese history and the Vietnamese-American generation that lives here today. Amanda Nguyen, 14, came out with her friends to get a glimpse. “I felt connected,” she said. “It made me realize how much Viet culture has grown in Dorchester.”
• BC High welcomes first female president: Grace Cotter Regan took charge as the first-ever woman president of Boston College High School on Morrissey Boulevard. Regan is the daughter of the school’s longtime football coach, Jim Cotter, a Savin Hill native. A West Roxbury resident, Regan most recently served as head of school at St. Mary’s in Lynn. She succeeds longtime President William Kemeza, who retired after a 30- year-career at the school earlier this year.
• NHCS has opened a new campus in Lower Mills to house its high school expansion: The charter school is leasing the facility at 2020 Dorchester Ave. from the archdiocese of Boston for two years, with an option to add two additional years if needed. “It’s a beautiful building with great bones and a lot of light. It’s a terrific place to launch the school,” said Scott.
• Haitian language learners in Mattapan: A new K1 dual language Haitian Creole program was one of the new offerings at the former Mattahunt school in Mattapan this year. The program, which rolled out with the opening of the new Mattapan Early Elementary School for the 2017/2018 school year, consists of one class in which one-third of the students speak Haitian Creole as a first language and at least one-third speak English.
Michel DeGraff, with the MIT linguistics department, applauded the effort.
“Think of the program as being the wave of the future,” he said, “not just for Haiti, but for the world, in terms of how, here in Mattapan, we can use the dual language program to break walls — which is now a radical statement. We want to break walls and build bridges to Mattapan.”
• A park in Port Norfolk: The old Schaffer paper site in Port Norfolk was re-dedicated as a beautiful, 15-acre state park. The state had claimed the land in 1986 and the former lumberyard languished in disuse for decades. In May, officials gathered in the newly named Senator Joseph Finnegan Park (he represented Dorchester in the House of Representatives and the state Senate during the Great Depression) to celebrate a family that has championed the land and the surrounding community for decades. After three decades, the cleanup and rehabilitation of the area is complete, and another critical link is in place along the Neponset River trail that stretches from Castle Island to Hyde Park.
• A June 28 fire destroyed much of the almost-finished Treadmark building near Ashmont station, dealing the Dorchester community a tough blow, particularly for people who were about to move into one of the 83 units that made up a mix of 32 condominiums and 51 affordable apartments.
The fire hit one day before the Boston Fire Department was scheduled to do a final sprinkler system check. A faulty exhaust pipe connected to a basement generator ignited flammable materials on the roofline, sparking a blaze that burned for almost 16 hours, according to fire officials.
Trinity Financial, Inc. plans to rebuild the mixed-use structure, calling it “Treadmark 2.0,” and is on track for completion next November. Anchor tenant American Provisions, an artisanal grocer, has said they still plan to occupy their retail space in the new Treadmark.
• Adams Corner businesses sidelined by fire: The Adams Corner eatery Blasi’s Café, along with the popular PS Gourmet coffee shop, were among the businesses closed after a fire struck the building at 756-762 Adams Street in September. The Boston Fire Department said the two-alarmer caused extensive smoke damage estimated at more than $700,000. There were no injuries, but there’s still no word on when the businesses will re-open, leaving a big gap in the business district.
• End of an Era at Old Colony House: One of Morrissey Boulevard’s longtime landmarks shut its doors permanently last year. The Phillips Old Colony House and Freeport Tavern ceased operations on Jan. 15. Joseph Sammartino, president of the family-run company that owns the property, said that after 27 years of running the restaurant and function business, it was time for “a reinvention.” In May, the property officially went on the market. Its parking lot is currently being used to store cars from a nearby auto dealer.
• Motley era ends at UMass Boston: UMass Boston Chancellor Dr. J. Keith Motley stepped down from his post last summer amid a controversy about the campus’s fiscal stability. Motley, who served as chancellor for a decade, was replaced by former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills, who has since made clear his intention to leave at the end of this academic year. UMass Boston faced a $30 million deficit, a gap that Mills says is down to $18 million and will likely be no larger than $5 million by the end of the fiscal year. UMass President Marty Meehan and the UMass Board of Trustees have begun a search for a new chancellor.
• Movement on Columbia Point: In a Dec. 28, 2016, story headlined “Ten Stories to Watch in the New Year,” the Reporter anticipated that the” biggest headlines in 2017 could be generated by the machinations of the powerful interests still circling Dorchester’s Columbia Point neighborhood.” How true it turned out to be.
In April, UMass and Robert Kraft — who had been quietly negotiating a deal to build a soccer and concert venue at the old Bayside Expo site— each admitted that the clandestine talks were “off.” The Kraft group then posthumously released detailed renderings of the 20,000-seat waterfront stadium, leading many to wonder why they didn’t seek to engage in a more public campaign to build support for the idea.
While neither side ruled out a potential return to the table, by late summer the UMass Building Authority— which controls the 20-acre Bayside site— did what many observers and the Reporter had long called for: They issued a “Request for Information” appeal to the region’s development community, seeking to gauge interest in re-developing the site into an “oceanfront neighborhood” that could serve as a new gateway to UMass.
By October, we could report that 16 development firms had answered their call, although details of those responses have— unfortunately for the public interest— not yet been released.
Later in the year, we reported that the archdiocese of Boston hopes to redevelop the St. Christopher’s church property on Columbia Point into a complex that could include dorms intended to house students from the neighboring UMass Boston campus. The planning— described by church officials as in a “preliminary stage”— could include a new, freestanding church on the site, alongside one or two new dormitory buildings to house as many as 2,000 students, according to church sources.
• Boston Globe departs; new owner plans to reimagine site: The other Dorchester newspaper left the neighborhood in early summer, decamping to a shiny, new newsroom in the Financial District while leaving its 16.5-acre campus largely empty. By late fall, workers were busy junking the old printing equipment. The new owners, Nordblom Co., have shared their vision for redeveloping the site into a mix of high-tech manufacturing, robotics labs, and some retail— including a brewery/restaurant— in a plan that has been well-received by their closest neighbors in Savin Hill.
• Longtime Boston Street eatery changes hands: 224 Boston Street, a popular destination for three decades, was sold to a new owner late this year.
Eric Aulenback, co-owner of three West Broadway restaurants in South Boston — Loco, Lincoln, and Capo— purchased the Polish Triangle property from Kevin Tyo, a pioneer in the Dot dining scene.
The restaurant went on the market earlier in the year for $2.5 million. The final sale price was not disclosed. The good news: the new owner intends to keep the restaurant open much as it has been over the years.
• Dot2Dot Café shuts its doors: A Dorchester Avenue staple of almost a decade, the Dot2Dot Cafe closed its doors on Fri, Aug. 18. Owner Karen Henry-Garrett thanked the community and friends in a heartfelt farewell Facebook post the following Monday, adding, “I am taking this opportunity to slow things down a little and to spend more time with my family.” The storefront re-opened as an Italian café — Caffe Zia Gianna —in late November.