South Bay Mall owners make case for expansion

Representatives behind a proposal to expand the South Bay Mall to include new housing, retail, and a movie theater are making the rounds at a series of community meetings in Dorchester. On Monday evening, they spoke to members of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association at the Cristo Rey High School on Savin Hill Avenue.

Emphasizing that the plan is still in its early stages, Keith Hague and David Germakian of Edens, the company behind the proposed shopping center expansion, sought input and answered community questions regarding transit, traffic congestion, and pedestrian access.

“The success of the development is really going to be the access for pedestrians, vehicular access, not impacting neighborhoods,” Hague told the 70 members of the civic association at the meeting. The same concerns had been raised at a meeting last week with the Citizens Connect South Bay group. “We don’t have all the answers now, but we have a lot of thoughts and a team of people working on it.”

Edens, the operator of the existing South Bay Mall, has proposed the construction of several six-story buildings with roughly 115,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, a movie theater, a hotel with up to 200 rooms, some 500 units of multifamily housing, and two parking garages, all marbled by new roadways, sidewalks, and open space.

The project, initially outlined in a letter of intent filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) on Feb. 11, would fill in a 10.2-acre parcel of land between South Bay, and Enterprise, Boston, and Howell streets that today consists of a concrete plant, vacant buildings, and surface parking lots.

Bruce Shatswell was one community member who raised concerns about transportation both within the proposed mix-use development, and to and from the shopping center.

“Southampton Street is woefully dangerous,” he said in referring to the street marking the mall’s northern boundary. Southampton’s curb-cut into the shopping complex is bisected by an on-ramp to Interstate 93 south, making it a treacherous intersection for pedestrians.

“You have an opportunity and I think the city and state really has the responsibility to make it transit-friendly. Don’t just do sidewalks,” said Shatswell.

Another association member asked about the nature of new retail stores, expressing a concern about more big-box stores coming in to the shopping plaza. Germakian said the company spends “a lot of time and energy trying to cultivate innovative retail.”

On the housing front, Hague said it was difficult to anticipate what a market rate would be for the 450 to 500 units of housing proposed because it is in a “niche area. There’s really nothing around the area such as this.”

When asked to compare the proposed South Bay expansion to Somerville’s Assembly Row, Hague said it was “very similar,” though the project that reinvigorated the Somerville neighborhood is bigger. “I think you can draw a lot of similarities.”