MBTA to Lease Ashmont Station Parcel to Private Developer

The MBTA will lease a large portion of its land around Ashmont Station to a private developer, who plans to build mixed-income housing for families and graduate students, with some retail space along the street. The rights to lease the 30,000 square foot, triangular parcel of land along Dorchester Avenue was awarded on Tuesday (March 26) to Trinity Financial, a Boston-based development firm with strong roots in Dorchester.

According to Vince Droser, a project manager for Trinity, the development company plans to model the housing on a similar project it completed in Roxbury recently. The company submitted a one-time bid of $900,000 to the MBTA this week to acquire the leasing rights for a period of 85 years. According to Droser, Trinity was the only company to bid for the land.

Michael Mulhern, general manager of the MBTA, hailed the project as a win for the community and the agency. Mulhern says the infusion of cash from the lease will help pay for more improvements to Dorchester's Red Line stations, four of which are due to undergo about $85 million in renovations beginning next year.

"We have some financial challenges, because we're trying to build a project that meets the community's expectations at all four stations," says Mulhern. "We decided at Ashmont to sell the surplus property we don't need and engage a developer that will help us modernize and add a neighborhood flavor to the station and get some added revenues.

"The more we looked at it, the more it made sense," says Mulhern.

The Trinity concept for the property, which it plans to call Ashmont Commons, remains largely undecided, because according to Droser, the company had little time to put together its winning proposal. Droser says Trinity plans to meet with community activists and leaders in and around the station before coming up with concrete plans for the site.

However, Trinity's preliminary concept for the property calls for 105 units of mixed income housing. Twenty percent of the units would be offered to low-income families and the rest would be marketed to area universities for off-campus graduate student housing. The housing is modeled on Davenport Commons, a $50 million Trinity project near Northeastern University that similarly combines student and residential housing.

In a proposal letter sent to the MBTA this week, Trinity's president Jim Keefe said the company evisions the Ashmont Commons "as a mass transit-friendly development and as such (we) are only proposing one level of below grade parking to be dedicated to the affordable housing units. The size and nature of the street level retail will be determined after discussions with the Ashmont community," Keefe wrote.

A key item in the Trinity proposal was a promise to set aside an annual contribution of $50,000 for the maintenance and improvement of the station's grounds. The contribution would be adjusted annually for a thirty-year period.

The parcel in question is about 35,000 square feet in size, according to an MBTA document describing the property. The site is now used primarily as employee parking and for station access and includes about 320 feet of frontage along Dorchester Avenue.

Ashmont is one of four Dorchester Red Line stations which are scheduled to be renovated in the next year using funds appropriated by the state's Legislature in 2000. Approximately $85 million was earmarked to pay for the fixes to Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner and Savin Hill stations. Community advisory groups have been meeting with state-funded architects since last spring to give input into the new station designs.

Mulhern says he hopes to channel the Trinity lease revenues directly into the Ashmont station project. Trinity's pro-rated, $50,000 maintenance commitment will also help the MBTA meet its obligations to keep the new station looking good.

"It helps to get us where we need to be," Mulhern says. "In the current fiscal crisis, we ought to be looking to do more of this."

Roseanne Foley, co-chair of the community oversight committee reviewing plans for the Ashmont renovations, said the T's idea to lease the site "sounds good to us."

"The T took the lead on it thus far. Now that the bid is awarded, there should be one, if not a series of meetings with the developer," said Foley. "The developers (Trinity) have established a track record of working with the community."

Foley said the idea of including retail on the first-floor of a new building was a good idea.

"One of the things we're looking for is to have commercial development," Foley said. "That will help to make that side of the street nice and vital."