The six-story apartment complex taking shape above the Ashmont T station marked two more milestones last week when Ashmont Grille owner Chris Douglass inked a deal to open a pizza/pasta eatery on the ground floor of the new building and dignitaries signed the structure's final steel beam at a 'topping off' ceremony on Thursday afternoon.
Trinity Financial, the project's developer, also weathered a setback as NStar energy entered talks to sell an adjacent property to a third party residential developer rather than to Trinity, who had hoped to use the space as auxiliary parking for the six-story Carruth.
"We were hoping that NStar would have taken an approach that allowed for some level of community input into the disposition of this parcel. That obviously didn't happen here," said Jim Keefe, president of Trinity. "Given all the meetings that had been held in the neighborhood over last five years, where every aspect of our development and the new station has been discussed and debated, this is regrettable."
Caroline Allen, a spokeswoman for NStar, confirmed that the energy company is moving towards a purchase and sales agreement with a residential developer who is "known to the community." She declined to disclose the offer the developer had made on the 12,000 square foot lot near the southern end of the Ashmont station footprint, but did say that it was unsolicited and significantly higher than the site's appraised value. The deal has not been finalized, but Allen said NStar and the developer were moving toward a purchase and sales agreement to be signed soon.
Even as the NStar lot appears to be off the table as a Trinity satellite, their Carruth project is moving forward on pace to open early in 2008, and the celebrated restaurateur Chris Douglass will open a new 100-seat pizza and pasta restaurant in the southern end of the building's ground floor.
Douglass, who also owns the Ashmont Grille on Talbot Avenue in addition to Icarus in the South End, said the new restaurant would allow him to offer a simpler menu at lower prices than he was able to achieve at the broad-reaching Grille.
"I was trying to be too many things initially at the Ashmont Grille," said Douglass, who opened the Grille a year and a half ago. He says he's been pleasantly surprised that there was enough customer interest to sustain an eclectic, pricier restaurant, and that the new eatery will allow him to cater directly to the simplicity in service and menu that he'd initially tried to straddle at the Grille.
"It's going to be slightly more casual than the Ashmont Grille and at a lower price point," said Douglass. "In keeping it really simple, as opposed to the Ashmont menu, I can cover all the bases."
Douglass said he was approached with the idea several months ago by Trinity leaders, who have hosted a number of events related to the Carruth project at the Grille.
"It seemed like a natural for Trinity," said Vince Droser, vice president of development at Trinity. "Chris is someone we've known and the Ashmont Grille is part of the revitalization of the square," said Droser.
The larger Carruth project is "on time and on budget," Droser added, with 116 units - 42 market rate condos on two floors above 74 affordable rental units - slated to open in early 2008. Douglass is the second tenant to sign on to occupy 10,000 feet of first-floor commercial space after Wainwright Bank, whose branch office will include a café.
The Carruth is one piece of an almost complete metamorphosis underway in Peabody Square. As the building takes shape above a new T station, St. Mark's Area Main Streets is working with the city to redesign traffic flow and streetscapes in the square, as well as recruiting new merchants.
Their focus at the moment is on the vacant space of the Tara Pub directly across Dorchester Avenue from the Carruth Project. Main Streets was close to luring an American-Turkish diner and restaurant to the space, but the project was blocked by the owner of Johnny's pizza, whose lease allows him to bar another eatery from opening in the building.
According to Dan Larner, executive director of the main streets branch, the owner of Johnny's felt the daytime menu was too close to the offerings at his pizza shop.
Larner is still searching for an eatery, and says building owner Bill Kelly, who also managed the Tara Pub, has been cooperative in holding out for the right tenant.
"[The Johnny's owner] has said that if a restaurant came in that didn't conflict with his menu he'd be okay with that, and that's what we would like to see," said Larner. "Ethnic [food] would be great, because we don't have any of that right now, but basically we're looking for something comfortable that would serve good food and meet the support of the neighborhood. "
Larner urged anyone interested to contact the main streets office.