Redevelopment plan in works for Quincy St. neighborhood

$70 million to boost industry, housing is goal of local-based coalition.

A coalition of local development organizations and community groups is seeking to pour up to $70 million into Grove Hall’s Quincy Street neighborhood as part of an effort over the next two to three years to revitalize four acres of vacant or blighted property and redevelop 58,000 square feet of commercial space and 129 affordable homes.

If the plan, put together by the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, comes to fruition the Quincy Street corridor between Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road could see a number of improvements: A two-acre vacant site, once home to a meat-packing plant, will be redeveloped into a light industrial small business center; the creation of a 25,000 square-foot culinary arts job training and placement center at 259 Quincy St.; and the renovation and reconfiguration of 81 existing apartments, development of 48 new units, and preservation of an additional 88 units, a project known as Quincy Heights.

Ed Grimes, who runs the Uphams Corner Health Center, said the plans fit what has historically been zoned as a light industrial area, particularly the meat-packing site, once owned by Pearl Meat Packing, Inc. “It was a vibrant, for its time, industrial area going back to probably the 1940s,” he said. “They used to make M-1 rifles there for the war effort going right through the Korean War, I believe. So it provided a lot of jobs in the area.”

But the area declined in the late 1960s, and today has problems such as gang violence and prostitution, according to local activists. “Right now, it’s very stark,” said Grimes, a Dorchester native. “It looks like a mini-Detroit.”

Dorchester Bay is collaborating with the Quincy-Geneva Community Development Corporation and Project RIGHT, a Grove Hall-based anti-violence group that promotes economic development and stabilization, to change that. Funding for the project is expected to come from public and private grants, loans, and capital.

Dorchester Bay is looking for tenants for the Pearl building, and will then design the building around their needs, the development corporation says. Associated Brokerage Group (AGB) LLC in Cambridge is handling the real estate transactions.

“What we’re seeking to do is get Pearl Meats full of businesses that are thriving,” said Robert Weiss, project manager at Dorchester Bay, which bought the building in February 2010 for $1 million.

The refurbishment of the former meat-packing plant, located at 196 Quincy St., is pegged at $8 million in cost and geared but not limited to food processing as well as small businesses and the construction industry.

“We’ve been talking to folks in the neighborhood about what would be a good fit, what wouldn’t be a good fit,” Weiss said.

Dorchester Bay hopes to have a support office within the building, to make copy machines and printers available to the businesses and help with accounting and securing contracts, he said.

Grimes said light industrial space like that in the Pearl Meats building is hard to find. According to an analysis ABG performed for Dorchester Bay, vacancies in Boston for space between 5,000 to 10,000 square feet were only two percent and vacancies for space less than 5,000 square feet were at less than one percent.

In April 2010, Dorchester Bay signed a memorandum of understanding with the New England Center for Arts and Technology to create a 25,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art culinary arts jobs training and placement center at 259 Quincy St. Expected to open by next year at a cost of about $10 million, the facility will partner with food service giant Sodexo to help graduate and place 50 adults annually after a 10-month job training program. “Jobs in the culinary arts field provide tremendous opportunities for career advancement with few barriers to access,” according to a Dorchester Bay overview of the Quincy St. corridor revitalization provided to the Reporter. “In addition, the facility will focus on arts programming for youth, providing digital media, ceramics, and other arts programming to well over 100 young people every week.”

Neighborhood residents are looking at parking issues and have concerns about traffic, as well as combating the issue of public safety and being able to live in bigger units more conducive to raising a family. The city’s transportation department is working with the development corporations on revamping the street.

“It’s not just the mortar and brick stuff, we need to clean up… and get folks involved in that part of the neighborhood so it becomes their street, where they live,” said Jorge Martinez of Project RIGHT, which stands for Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together.

State Rep. Carlos Henriquez said it was “exciting to see this take shape,” as other projects have also been in the works in the Uphams Corner and Grove Hall neighborhoods, including the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center and the redevelopment of the former St. Kevin’s property. “We just want to make sure the benefit goes to the community,” he said.

Uphams Corner’s Grimes called the project a “boon” to the community. “It would produce jobs. I think it could only benefit the job development in the area.”