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Fair play along the Fairmount Line

This week’s lead story about an apparently aborted City Hall proposal to build a Public Works yard on a key parcel next to the Uphams Corner commuter rail stop sparked a whole lot of outrage from readers and residents when the Reporter broke the news online last Friday. The strong reaction has been largely tempered by Mayor Menino’s own statement (through his press secretary) that the city will instead seek bids to redevelop the Maxwell property, a three-acre site that took the city years to claim from its former owner, who lost the site after a protracted legal dispute with the federal government.

This “false start” gave voice to the well-organized and development-hungry community of people that have rallied around the whole Fairmount commuter rail corridor in recent years. Their solidarity in saying, “No way” to a passive city street light depot on this critical parcel resulted in a fast response from the mayor when he was briefed on the topic. It’s no wonder that Menino quickly took a much different path, stating that he believes that “transit-oriented development” is the better route forward for Maxwell.

Indeed it is.

But, the Maxwell site should be considered with a larger lens that includes an adjacent property— the Leon Electric Building. This hulking, monstrous warehouse is an even more prominent eyesore and opportunity, standing as it does right on Dudley Street and directly adjacent to the heart of the increasingly busy Uphams Corner T stations. If you ask longtime stakeholders in that community about which property presents a more appealing option for re-use, you will probably get the answer: both. However, because the Leon Building is privately controlled by a realty trust that has proven frustratingly elusive over many years— it has been given second-billing to Maxwell, which is “RFP-ready” given its place in the city real estate portfolio.

Still, Jeanne DuBois, the executive director of Dorchester Bay EDC, is excited about the prospect of both of these projects finally getting on track— thanks largely to the still-blossoming vitality of the MBTA commuter rail line. DuBois is particularly enthusiastic about the planning work done by the Working Advisory Group (WAG) that Menino appointed to work with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to identify big-ticket opportunities like Maxwell and Leon. The mix of housing with light industrial, incubator-style work spaces, she says, is both innovative and highly sought-after in Boston.

“We were very impressed with the plan the BRA came up with,” DuBois said.

“ What I liked about their plan [for Maxwell] is you’d have 20 light industrial small bays and that’s the biggest demand in the city, for these smaller commercial spaces.”

Dorchester Bay, DuBois notes is “getting plenty of interest” from potential tenants for a similar redevelopment project that the CDC is spearheading on Quincy Street— another byproduct of the Fairmount Line’s influence in sparking the economy along this corridor.

With fares lowered to $2 a ride, 40 trains a day now running down the tracks— and most critically— stopping for passengers in Uphams, Talbot, Four Corner and Newmarket, the long-awaited dream of a true revival of jobs access, housing renewal and overall improvements to inland Dorchester is finally at hand. It’s good that Mayor Menino is similarly committed to following through on its promise. The candidates to replace him next year would do well to show a similar resolve and perhaps even more imagination and ideas for how to capitalize on this investment.