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Editorial: A welcome wave of development

If there are any lingering doubts that the local economy is poised for a strong bounce-back in the next few years, a quick review of the Reporter’s front pages over the last month is instructive. In particular, there is ample evidence that the Morrissey Boulevard corridor that links Savin Hill and Columbia Point is ready to blossom, with new buildings and renewal projects aimed at reinvigorating this well-situated northern nook of Dorchester.

Last week, the Reporter was the first to publish news about “The Residences at Morrissey Boulevard”, a $60 million residential project proposed by Synergy, a Boston-based development firm. Synergy plans to build 278 units of rental housing at 25 Morrissey Boulevard, a long vacant, two-acre lot nestled between the busy JFK-UMass MBTA station and Shaw’s supermarket.

Synergy president Dave Greaney has a keen sense of what will work on the site. He and his team have sensibly elected to restrict the two-building complex to a height of just five-and-a-half stories, even though newly redrawn city zoning codes would have allowed a building more than twice the height. But Synergy’s design anticipates future growth on both sides of the property by incorporating a through “main” street that may one day bisect this side of the boulevard.

Greaney also controls the adjacent Shaw’s market property and the Greater Boston Radio building down the block and he envisions a time when the western side of Morrissey will be redeveloped into a new neighborhood with integrated retail — including a new supermarket— as part of the footprint.

Synergy’s “phase one” plan, however, sets the right tone by establishing a residential foothold next to the T station— a location that Greaney thinks will make it a popular choice for younger, downtown workers who don’t want to pay downtown prices. It’s a good model and the right way to launch a more adventurous redevelopment project down the line.

The Reporter also carried exclusive news last week about car dealer Herb Chambers’s intentions to buy the old Channel 56 property at 75 Morrissey Boulevard. That site, tucked between the Boston Globe and the Greater Boston Media studios, has been unused for five years.

In August, we detailed a still-emerging plan by longtime Columbia Point stakeholders Corcoran Jennison to build a new residential complex on Mt. Vernon Street. The six-story, 200-unit apartment building — with an estimated $60 million price-tag— would replace a section of a parking lot in front of the Bayside Office Center (where the Reporter leases office space from the Corcoran Jennison company.)
Skeptics will point out that we’ve been on the cusp of transformation in this neighborhood before. A mid-1990s plan by a previous landowner to build an 11-story hotel at the 25 Morrissey Blvd. site now owned by Synergy was pulled after significant neighborhood opposition. A more recent Corcoran-Jennison plan to reinvent the old Bayside Expo Center as a $1 billion waterfront community of homes and retail was upended by the recession of 2008.

But the landscape has changed, as indicated by Greaney’s eagerness to begin work on the 25 Morrissey project as soon as it is fully reviewed by the BRA. Large investments by the state — particularly through the growth of UMass Boston— have helped set the stage for private equity to do its part. And the work of a volunteer committee of BRA-guided citizens has helped set the stage for robust redevelopment on the boulevard. And work to build the latest institution to make Dorchester its home — the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate— is under way.

The fact that these private, public, and non-profit outfits are all banging on our door this season is a welcome sign of things to come for Dorchester.