The city of Boston is vetting a trio of proposals submitted by development teams to turn an old Uphams Corner manufacturing complex into a mix of housing and other uses. The former Maxwell Box Company at 65 East Cottage St. is one of several dormant sites along the Fairmount commuter rail corridor that are now on the fast track to revitalization thanks in large part to state and federal investment in the transit line.
The Maxwell site, which formerly housed a bread factory, is a 2.5-acre industrial parcel that sits adjacent to the Uphams Corner MBTA station. It was seized by the city in 2011 for its owner’s failure to pay back taxes and was briefly considered as a new home for a municipal storage yard in the waning days of the Menino administration.
But, after an outcry from residents, Menino personally halted those plans and committed to seek out a new buyer who would create a mixed-use development on the site, which is valued at over $1.9 million according to city assessors. The Walsh administration issued a request for proposals last summer after a series of community meetings. The deadline was Oct. 21.
Sheila Dillon, the executive director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), which controls the site, said in an interview that the bidders could make presentations to the community as soon as next month.
“We did get three strong proposals from three strong teams, which is once again exciting,” she said. “The staff here are reviewing the proposals right now and will then make determinations about who would go out to make presentations. If they all submitted complete proposals, and it looks like they did, they all will go out and present to the community.”
One of the development teams is led by the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC ), which teamed up with Boston Capital, a real estate investment firm, and Escazu Development, owned by former VietAID leader My Lam.
Their plan calls for a mix of homes, rental units, and a 20,000 sq. ft. space to house a light industrial business on the site. The housing mix will include 92 residential units, of which 50 percent will be classified as affordable, with the balance marketed as “moderate or market-rate.” The Dorchester Bay plan would include a public green space and community room and a new street with a village feel.
Another proposal comes from the Dorchester-based Corcoran-Jennison Companies, the firm that transformed the old Columbia Point project into today’s Harbor Point development. Corcoran-Jennison is a for-profit company that builds and manages residential communities across the country. They recently submitted a proposal to buy and redevelop another city-owned parcel along the Fairmount Line, the former Cote Ford property on Cummins Highway in Mattapan.
Like their Mattapan proposal, Corcoran-Jennison’s plan for the Uphams Corner site focuses on building a mix of 123 rental units, most of which will target so-called “workforce” tenants. Sixteen of the units would be set aside as affordable. Their plan includes two new residential buildings28,355 square feet of commercial or light industrial space and a 7,300 sq. ft. green space.
A third proposal, from Boston-based Weld Management Co., Inc., has no housing component, according to a summary provided by DND. The Weld plan would create a 40,000-square-foot light industrial building with 40 parking spaces.
Jeanne DuBois, executive director of Dorchester Bay EDC, said that her organization has long sought to acquire and build on the Maxwell property and even had an agreement in place with the previous owner a decade ago.
“We know the neighborhood very, very well and we have strong Cape Verdean organizers,” said DuBois. “So we feel like we know the neighborhood and our interest is to do what we’re supposed to do: sustainable community development with a mix of incomes and uses.”
The Dorchester Bay proposal would create a village feel, with a new street bisecting the site. Six two-family homes— with both homeownership and rental units— would be built, along with an apartment complex that would house 80 units, with a mix of affordable and middle income rates.
“We are responding to the abutters and our own board, who did not want to do all low income housing, but a mix,” explained DuBois. “As the neighborhood is stabilizing, we’ve learned it’s good for the community to have a mix of incomes.”
The light industrial building, DuBois said, would be sited closer to other existing industrial spaces along East Cottage Street. “There’s such huge need for jobs in this community and we’re doing it as a joint venture with Newmarket. They are bringing relationships with the food production industry and other industries. What we’ve seen from Newmarket is that these businesses are better paying than retail.”
The privately-funded Corcoran Jennison concept features a five story, wood frame building that would house 111 units intended for middle income households with a minimum of $60,000-85,000 annual income. The building, which would include an 85-spot underground parking garage, would be accessible by a new road off of East Cottage Street. A second, three-story residential building would house 11 rental units on Hillsboro Street. A 7,300 sq. ft. neighborhood park would be created at the corner of Harrow and Hillsboro streets.
“I think there are probably a lot of people who already live in this neighborhood who’d live in this building,” said Joseph J. Corcoran, a principal at Corcoran Jennison. “It would also attract new residents and it would be a great economic generator for Uphams Corner. We’re a believer in mixed income throughout our history and having all incomes, not just low income. The market will support a privately financed apartment building that is affordable to middle income people.”
Corcoran said his firm is confident that Uphams Corner— and the Fairmount corridor— can support a development that is not reliant on low-income tax credits.
“Low income tax credits is a great program, but it’s limited. As imp as that is, there’s a huge need for housing for middle income people who we need for the city’s workforce without having to live out in the suburbs,” said Corcoran.
Corcoran said that his company would look to team up with another partner, possibly even Dorchester Bay EDC, if Corcoran Jennison is awarded the deal.
“We are experts in creating residential, but we’re very open to partnering with a commercial expert that meets the needs of the community. Dorchester Bay is excellent on commercial and would be a good partner. If we get the deal, we’d love to talk to them about the commercial part,” said Corcoran.
DND chief Dillon said that two of the proposals have “very strong transit-oriented development components” and “seem to be the right
density and take a lot of care with design and neighborhood context.”
“The community in Uphams Corner has been a wonderful partner to help us envision what they’d like to see in this space,” said Dillon. “We’re expecting a lot of community involvement as they make presentations. Their opinion and input will be critical to our analysis.”