After 20 years of delay, disappointment and more delay, the fate of the sprawling Boston State Hospital campus - a linchpin property that straddles the the borders of Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain and Hyde Park - is now in the hands of a committee of community residents and the Romney administration.
Two would-be development teams, each boasting an innovative plan and deep-rooted community ties, are jockeying for the right to build on the 35-plus acre site.
After a lengthy public process, which culminated in a overflow meeting of neighborhood activists and interested parties on Sept. 10, the community advisory committee is expected to decide between the two proposals sometime this fall.
One development team, led by Lena Park Community Development Corporation and New Boston Development Partners (Lena New Boston), hopes to win the right to construct what they call Olmsted Green, a mix of affordable homes, apartments and businesses that proponents say will bring an economic boom to the area without compromising the natural setting of the green space along Morton Street. A second team, fronted by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Mattapan CDC - with three local churches in the forefront - would also build a mix of housing, as well as a new supermarket, along with other amenities.
Each proposal was given a final hearing at the Foley Apartment building on River Street on Sept. 10. According to Michael Thomas, project manager for the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAM), a recommendation from the community advisory committee is expected in 30 to 60 days. However, the final arbiter of the property's disposition will be David B. Perini, Commissioner of DCAM, an appointment made by Governor Romney.
Proponents from each side are hesitant to draw any public distinctions between the two proposals- and claim to have little knowledge of the details of the opposing plans. However, each side has respectfully offered reasons why their vision for the Boston State site is superior.
Duane Jackson, an architect and consultant who has been a key planner for Stony Brook, said that the coalition of faith-based and community organizations behind the plan are "mission driven."
"This is a problematic development which is not profit driven. It's a social, mission-based project," said Jackson, adding that the goal of creating affordable home-ownership opportunities was the driving force behind the Stony Brook concept.
And while both sides clearly address the need for both affordable and market rate homes and apartments, Stony Brook's proposal also includes a new supermarket, run by Tropical Foods, a longtime presence in Roxbury's Dudley Square.
Tropical Foods owner Ron Garry, Jr. said that is what makes Stony brook's plan stand out.
"Of the two proposals, both have housing components, but what I think separates the two proposals is the commercial side of our development and what it offers in terms of jobs, economic impacts and the greatest impact to the most number of people. It gives the people of Mattapan a supermarket which they desperately need."
While Garry and Stony Brook pointed to the jobs that will be created by Tropical Foods and other potential commercial entities, supporters of the Lena Park New Boston proposal claim that their plans to create a permanent job training facility at the site will have a more profound long-term impact on the neighborhood. Lena Park's President and CEO E. Lorraine Baugh said that the "community-centric" training center that her organization will run will be a centerpiece of Olmsted Green, allowing for waves of new job creation that will adapt to changing technologies in the coming years.
Lena Park's equal partnership with the deep-pocketed New Boston Development Partners- a Boston venture capital firm that recently funded a $50 million redevelopment in Mission Hill- is another selling point, according to Baugh.
"Eighteen months after designation, we can be in the ground. With us, there's no question mark," said Baugh.
While Baugh said that she expects Lena New Boston to win designation, she expects that both sides will eventually team up in some fashion after the decision.
"None of the people who are involved in what's going here are idiots. And I think we will be able to come out with even a better because it has included others in the process," Baugh said.
State Hospital at a Crossroads