The frenetic pace of redevelopment is sure to populate the front pages of the Reporter in 2018. Here’s a look at some of the major stories you’re likely to read more about in the coming 52 weeks.
Cranes on the near horizon
Our neighborhood skyline will be peppered with building cranes this year as several major projects that have been in the construction queue – some for years –drive piles and rise, adding new hundreds of new housing units and retails space from Mattapan to the Southie border. Not all of them will be completed by year’s end, but the city’s boom will descend into the heart of Dot this year in a fashion unseen since our salad days as a “streetcar suburb.”
The epicenter of the build-out will be Glover’s Corner – the crossroads of Dot Ave and Hancock Street – where a massive project dubbed Dot Block will jump from pages of conceptual drawings to concrete and beams rising several stories above the avenue. The mix of uses will include 362 rental units and what’s likely to be a big-name retail tenant to fill much of the 37,000 square feet of retail on the ground level. Dot Block will be a real transformation from the norm along this forlorn stretch of graffiti-tagged warehouses and fenced-off auto-related lots, the single biggest project in the neighborhood in ’18 by its scale and budget, clocking in with an eye-popping $150 million price tag.
While it probably won’t be ready for occupancy until 2019, this will be the transformative year for this section of the neighborhood. Demolition is expected to start any day now.
Clarity on Columbia Point
Dot’s Columbia Point peninsula will continue to present major obstacles and big-time opportunities as the calendar turns.
In a breakthrough last spring, the Kraft family, oligarchs in Foxborough, abandoned their hush-hush expedition into Dorchester to scoop up the old Bayside Expo site for a soccer stadium. Their retreat cleared the way for UMass to finally focus on an open and more fruitful search for a private partner to re-develop this prime 20 acres of waterfront real estate on the shores of Dorchester Bay.
The university’s initial appeal last fall for interested developers yielded no fewer than 16 potential suitors. Look for UMass to issue a more elaborate request for proposals in 2018, then pair up with a builder who can help transform the Bayside campus into a mix of academic, housing, and public amenities. The Expo site is a huge asset for UMass— one that could potentially pull it out from its sticky financial morass and onto terra firma within a few years.
The Boston Globe finally broke free from its Morrissey Boulevard moorings last summer, following its heart back to its roots in downtown Boston. After four years and two failed attempts to unload their Dorchester campus, John and Linda Pizzuti Henry ultimately succeeded last month, transferring title of the now-empty 16.5-acre site to the Nordblom Co. for a tidy $81 million.
The new owners wasted no time in pulling out the innards of the old printing presses and also filing initial plans with the city to begin a massive renovation. The end game, Nordblom tell us, will be a hive of high-tech manufacturing companies, including robotics-based firms, that might find new quarters along the Red Line corridor to their liking. A gastro-brewery is also laid out for the old newspaper plant, according to early sketches reviewed by the Reporter. This year you can expect more outreach from the Nordblom folks to better track local appetites – perhaps even a handful of city-sponsored review meetings.
And that’s not all for the Point: Watch for more chess moves along the spine of Mt. Vernon Street, where the archdiocese and the city of Boston are each eyeing the chance to re-purpose underused land. And the Santander campus at 2 Morrissey Blvd., sold quietly to the secretive Beacon Properties outfit last summer, is also expected to be redeveloped in the near future.
Brass Tacks on the Boulevard
This was supposed to be the year that an anticipated $30 million-plus project to elevate and improve conditions along Morrissey Boulevard would ramp up and break ground. That’s unlikely at this stage. The project is still very much on the drawing board of the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Recreation. But, after significant pushback from neighbors and elected officials, most notably Mayor Walsh, planners are still laboring to fine-tune design elements and win buy-in from civic leaders.
Central to the debate: Selling the idea of dropping one of three vehicular travel lanes on certain stretches of the boulevard to make safer passage for bikes and pedestrians. Another sticking point: Eliminating the heavily used U-turn at the Dunkin’ Donuts at Pope’s Hill Street (This wouldn’t be a proper Massachusetts road project controversy without the requisite reference to the region’s dominant coffee conglomerate). Watch for several more public meetings in the early part of this year. A final key element: The Legislature must find the money to pay for the actual Morrissey construction.
The art of compromise on Port Norfolk
One of the stories we covered very closely last year was a proposal to re-develop a marina and warehouses on the Port Norfolk peninsula. The plan by City Point Capital – dubbed Neponset Wharf – is pretty ambitious: 150 condos, a boutique hotel, and other amenities would spring up along the waterfront right next to the existing Venezia restaurant. The design by RODE Architects is very appealing. But the project has been stalled by a disagreement between the developers and neighbors, who argue, with some merit, that the existing infrastructure for the Port can’t handle the added influx of people and vehicles.
This is a project that can happen with some reasonable compromises on both sides. The neighborhood-at-large is thirsty for more public amenities along our restored waterfront. But people in the Port need to see some concessions from the developers – and we think they will. Watch for this issue to be resolved in the first half of 2018.
Opportunity knocks at Glover’s Corner
Another opportunity to find constructive common ground is along Freeport Street and Dot Ave, where the Boston Planning and Development Agency (the old BRA) is six months into a year-long effort to think-through the long term redevelopment of Glover’s Corner. The heavily industrial zone includes the huge yellow school bus depot along Freeport and the aging Campbell Resource Center next to the Burger King, both potential targets for re-development.
The BPDA process ran into some significant pushback this winter from a coalition of activists who want to see more input from nearby residents and a harder-line commitment to affordability from city planners. It’s a natural give-and-take that can and should happen at this stage of planning — which likely won’t trigger immediate change in the zone for years to come. The next Glover’s Corner meeting is next Wednesday at the IBEW Hall, weather permitting.
Re-treading hope in Ashmont
The destruction of the six-story Treadmark building on Dot Ave. last June was one of the lowlights of 2017. The fire came just days before new residents were set to move into the 83-unit complex across from the Carruth building and Ashmont station. Work is already well under way to rebuild the Treadmark and it’s on track for an opening late this year. If it comes to fruition, as the development team from Trinity Financial, Inc. promises, it will be a remarkable story of re-birth.
The Mattapan Trolleys
The year 2017 ended with a big bump along the tracks for the antiquated but still-beloved Mattapan High-Speed trolley line. Two PCC cars collided inside Cedar Grove Cemetery last week and one of the vehicles sustained serious front-end damage. People were hurt, too, although none seriously, thank goodness. It’s not the first time the hearty, 1940s-era machines have played bumper cars on this stretch of track, and it comes as MBTA officials await the results of a consultant’s report that could prove to be definitive in terms of the near and long term fate of the orange rattlers.
They are a sentimental favorites, but can they long endure in an MBTA system already taxed by aging fleets and budget-busting costs? We should get a much clearer picture by April.
Teeing up the last link of Greenway
One of the highlights of 2017 was the opening of two new stretches of the DCR’s Neponset Greenway trail. The larger of the two – linking Mattapan Square and Milton’s Central Avenue – is a one-mile addition featuring a scenic bridge and canopy walk over the tracks in Mattapan.
Riders and walkers flocked to the riverside trail all summer, and well into the fall. Another new link, on the Port Norfolk peninsula, came online a bit earlier last year, also a welcome addition.
Still missing though – and unfunded – is a critical missing link between Tenean Beach and Morrissey Boulevard. State planners have envisioned this connection as a cantilevered structure that will wind between the rainbow gas tank property and the expressway. Getting the funds to build this missing stretch is a job for Dot lawmakers and the Baker administration.
Historic farmland restored in Mattapan
Work to restore the 1786 Fowler Clark Epstein Farm in Mattapan is nearly complete, according to the landowners, Historic Boston Inc. The 3.7-million rehabilitation comes after years of neglect and will not only save this important connection to our colonial past, but also give the Norfolk Street property a new lease on life. The Urban Farming Institute of Boston will begin its residency at the farm this year, opening up space to teach Bostonians how to grow their own food right in their backyards. Watch for updates on this long-awaited project in the spring.