The 16-acre New Boston Food Market on the South Boston-Dorchester line, a vital cog in Boston’s food supply chain, is once again in the crosshairs of powerful redevelopment forces, despite the fact that its current occupants insist that their properties are not for sale.
Already furiously engaged in fighting against a proposal to site a $10 million trash transfer facility, merchants in Widett Circle and neighboring Newmarket are now facing an even more daunting and potentially existential threat in the form of dueling proposals to build massive sports stadiums on or near their land. Proponents of a bid to lure the 2024 Olympic Games to Boston have pitched the idea of reclaiming parts of Widett Circle for the site of a new Olympic Stadium.
This week, a report in the Boston Globe brought a new wrinkle: A plan from the formidable owner of the New England Patriots, Bob Kraft, to build a 28,000 seat soccer stadium for his Revolution team on city-owned land immediately adjacent to Widett Circle.
“All of these different scenarios concern us,” said Sue Sullivan, the executive director of Newmarket Business Association, which includes New Boston Food Market. “Sometimes you feel like a pawn in somebody else’s chess game.”
There are already signs that negative reactions from the current owners is having an impact.
Michael Vaughan, a former BRA staffer who advises the 20-plus businesses who comprise the New Boston Food Market, says that the merchants have been dismayed to learn of the potential redevelopment of the area for the proposed transfer station, the Olympic bid— and more recently, the Kraft plans for a soccer stadium— from news reports.
Vaughan says that concerns raised by New Boston merchants in recent weeks have resulted in positive, conciliatory meetings with John Fish, the chairman of the Boston 2024 Committee— and with senior members of the Walsh administration, including one of the mayor’s senior aides, Jerome Smith. Both Fish and Smith visited the New Boston group on consecutive days in late October to speak directly to the owners of Widett Circle businesses.
“John Fish apologized to the group and committed that they would be part of the process going forward,” said Vaughan. “The mayor’s message was also clear: That he has their back and that Widett Circle will be part of the conversation going forward.”
Vaughan said that this week’s Globe story outlining the Kraft family’s interest in building a soccer stadium adjacent to Widett Circle on land presently used as a City of Boston tow and public works yard, was yet another surprise development.
“No one from New Boston has heard from anybody about the [Kraft] soccer stadium idea,” said Vaughan.
“There is this myth out there somehow that this property is for sale,” said Vaughan. “It’s not for sale. It’s hasn’t been for sale. These are businesses that employ 700 people in good jobs that are year-round jobs that are vital to the food industry in the city of Boston.”
Marion Kaiser, owner of Aquanor Marketing Inc. in New Boston Food Market, called the proposed Widett Circle stadium location a technical “slip-up” by Boston 2024 organizers. In fact, she says, the Olympic stadium — and the smaller, more recent Kraft plan — both would displace the city of Boston’s tow and sand lots adjacent to Widett Circle. The city-owned sites are accessible along the Frontage Road that wind along Interstate 93.
“If it’s compatible and doesn’t displace jobs, then we’re willing to listen,” Sullivan said of any potential stadiums. “It’s too early to say whether we’d be opposed or in favor. It’s really just what we’re watching carefully.”
A more immediate concern for existing businesses has been a controversial plan by Celtic Recycling to build a new trash transfer station at 100 Widett Circle. Businesses opposing the plan say it is a bad fit in a neighborhood where a large majority of the city’s meats, fish, produce and other food stocks are stored and processed.
“For the businesses at Widett Circle, we own our land, we own our buildings, our mortgages are paid off, we’re happy. We don’t want or need to move,” Kaiser said. “We’re in a nice spot, and right now, our only real threat is that we don’t feel we in any way can coexist with a neighboring waste facility.”
Kaiser reiterated that the city has since reached out to New Boston to acknowledge that “they know we’re here,” she said, but “the city of Boston cannot respond to this proposal until and unless they [Celtic Recycling] file for a permit.”
On Tuesday night, the Polish Triangle’s McCormack Civic Association reaffirmed their membership in a coalition of civic and business groups opposed to the Celtic Recycling plan. The proposed facility at 100 Widett Circle would process 1,500 tons of construction and demolition debris daily, as well as single stream recycling of cardboard, newspapers, cans, and bottles within a 55,000 square-foot former blast freezing facility.
“The vote was to assure McCormack has the information about this project and a seat at the table to discuss impacts to our community,” McCormack executive board member Desmond Rohan said after the meeting.
The task force, led by Sullivan, has organized resistance by bringing the concerns of existing Widett Circle businesses— many of them food processing plants in the New Boston Food Market business park— to the meetings of Dorchester and South Boston civic associations.
This fall, Dorchester’s Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association grappled with the question of whether to join the task force, leading to fiery exchanges between Celtic Recycling and task force members. Columbia-Savin Hill deferred their vote until the civic group’s next meeting on Dec. 1.
Celtic Recycling, for their part, is adamant that should the Olympic stadium come to Widett Circle, the facility will pair well with their trash transfer site, which will process construction materials, as well as single stream recycling.
“We feel that we can coexist down there with them. If the time does come that they decide to take that land to build a stadium,” Celtic CEO Susie Chin told the Reporter on November 3. “We will be hopefully up and running so we can help them with processing. When they build, we’re there again. And when the Olympics are up and running, all the single stream recycling? We can help with that.”
On Tuesday, the city of Boston’s chief of economic development John Barros offered remarks about the potential for a stadium in the Widett Circle area following a speech he gave to a meeting of the Boston Irish Business Association.
“I’m a soccer fan, but I need to make sure that this thing works for the city,” said Barros, who noted that Kraft is “very involved in the 2024 bid.”
Barros indicated that the Walsh administration’s posture to the Boston committee’s proposal— now under review by a team that will choose a US finalist for the Olympic consideration— is open-minded.
“We can ask the question all day of whether Boston can host the games,” Barros said. “Of course we can. We just have to be able to plan for it the right way. In cities like Vancouver, Barcelona, London that have been good at planning, it’s been a success. It’s in the places that struggled to plan that it’s been a disaster. The only way to do it responsibly is to plan.”
“We have a committee that are doing an excellent job in pitching the city,” said Barros, who stressed that no public funds have been— or will be— expended in the campaign to bring the Olympic games to Boston.
In regards to the businesses and jobs in Widett Circle, Barros said that the Walsh administration would be committed to keeping those manufacturers and jobs in the city.