October 8, 2015
A Dorchester restaurateur hopes to find a partner to help him develop a luxury condo complex on what is now a marina on the Port Norfolk waterfront. Ralph Bruno, the longtime owner of Venezia Restaurant and the Boston Winery, has begun marketing the property through a Boston real estate firm in hopes of teaming with an experienced development company that can help him realize his longtime vision for the site.
The four parcels in question— totaling 7.8 acres, including 70-plus boat slips on the water— are not currently owned by Bruno. But he has an option to buy the properties that are immediately adjacent to his 238,050 square feet Venezia complex, which is also permitted to include upwards of 100 boat slips, according to Bruno. Combined, the four parcels are currently valued at just over $2 million, according to city tax records. However, the site— which includes an active marina— would fetch well in excess of that sum on the open market.
In a four-page prospectus prepared by Boston Realty Advisors, the Port Norfolk site is trumpeted for its proximity to the expressway and “impressive views of the Boston skyline” in “one of the most popular neighborhoods in the greater Boston.”
The Dorchester neighborhood, the document notes, is currently in the midst of an “onslaught of development projects including the DotBlock Project, Ashmont TOD2, South Bay Center, HUB 25, 1961 Dorchester Avenue and Four Corners Plaza.
“The Port Norfolk development site will directly benefit from the surge of residential density, as well as numerous arts and entertainment projects in the surrounding area,” the real estate firm pitches.
The marina, which is presently operated by Russo Marine, is also cited as an asset for buyers since— the firm argues— the boat slips will allow “a developer to collect existing cash flow while developing the site.”
Boston Realty Advisors say they will conduct tours of the property over the next several weeks with “a call for offers to follow.”
John Lyons, the president of the Port Norfolk Civic Association, said he and other civic leaders are eager to hear more about Bruno’s plans.
“It’s obvious something is going to happen on the site,” said Lyons. “I look forward to getting a more concrete proposal and to start the process. No one is opposed to development there. What everyone wants to know is what exactly it is and how it would fit.”
Bruno has weighed plans to buy and develop the property before. Earlier this year, he visited a meeting of the civic association to discuss a conceptual plan for a condo development and hotel on the site. The multi-phase project was met with mixed reviews from neighbors, some of whom thought the proposal was too dense for the site.
Now, Bruno said he hopes to find a partner who will help him fine tune his earlier proposal and assist in financing the project for what he envisions will be “a high end” development.
“I decided to put it on the market to get a developer to do a joint venture,” said Bruno. “We would call it the Port at Boston Harbor. I want to get proposals from the best developers we can— internationally— and do something that will make Dorchester proud.”
Port Norfolk is one of Dorchester’s more secluded but scenic and desirable neighborhoods. Formerly home to a nail manufacturing plant, a shipyard and other industrial and maritime uses, it has been transformed in recent decades into a residential enclave as well. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently working to transform a 14-acre former industrial site along the Neponset River into a new park— an amenity long sought after by neighbors.
Bruno and his family have a long and successful history in the neighborhood as well. In 1985, Bruno purchased a struggling waterfront restaurant— then known as Harborlights— and transformed it into Venezia, an Italian eatery that has become one of the city’s finest waterfront dining destinations. Bruno later added on a function facility of the same name that has become a favored destination for weddings, fundraisers and political gatherings. Both Mayor Martin Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker held election night celebrations at the banquet facility during their last election cycles.
But Bruno said that he has always considered the redevelopment of the marina area into a residential complex to be his chief objective. A builder by profession, Bruno has refurbished or built more than 20 buildings in the city’s North End and was a key partner in Quincy’s Louisburg Square development in the 1980s.
“Now I feel like we are ready to put the whole package together,” says Bruno. “I would like to create a classic Bostonian look here, matching the brickwork that’s here already from the winery and the other buildings and really bring out the character of the area. There’s a lot of history here.”