July 19, 2016
(Updated Wed., July 20)— As news on a new agreement to sell the 16-acre Boston Globe property on Morrissey Boulevard continues to break, car magnate Herb Chambers – who owns an abutting property that could prove to be a lynchpin in still-emerging redevelopment plans on Columbia Point – is re-emerging as an important player in what comes next.
Chambers told community leaders last week that he will scrap earlier plans to convert a defunct TV station studio site into a used car lot and instead build a massive new building on the property, which sits right next to the Boston Globe plant.
The new Chambers plan calls for an 80,000-square foot, five-story building that will house a dealership selling Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, with large showroom windows facing the Southeast Expressway. The proposal is dramatically larger than Chambers’s initial plan for 75 Morrissey Blvd., which would have housed pre-owned BMW vehicles and service bays by re-purposing the existing building on the site. That plan won approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority after a community review process in 2013.
However, Chambers never followed through on that plan. Despite initial assurances that construction would begin in 2014, he and his representatives went silent on their next moves for more than a year until finally telling the Reporter in April 2015 that the project had run into “certain unanticipated complications in regard to engineering issues at this site.” The delay, according to a Chambers spokesman, was related to “excessive groundwater and utility easement issues.”
Civic leaders familiar with Chambers new plan say that the auto kingpin, who is originally from Dorchester, claims that he is not familiar with what is coming next for the hulking newspaper offices and printing facility next door.
Chambers made his pitch for the car complex in person to the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association’s planning board after lawyers representing the car dealer asked civic leaders to add him to their monthly agenda just days before the meeting.
Members of the association shared Chambers’s plans with the Reporter. Chambers himself has not responded to requests for comment from the newspaper.
Nick Martin, director of communications for the BRA, said that the new Chambers proposal has been discussed with the agency’s development review team.
“While we previously approved a small project at that site, the new Herb Chambers proposal will have to undergo a full large project review, which will include the formation of an Impact Advisory Group,” said Martin. “I can't pinpoint exactly when the formal Article 80 development review process will start, but we anticipate receiving an official filing within the next couple of months.”
Chambers’s huddle with the Columbia-Savin Hill planners came just hours before news broke last Saturday that the Globe has entered into an agreement to sell its Morrissey Boulevard campus to an unidentified buyer. The paper reported on the deal, but has not offered any details on the potential buyer, the price, or the proposed use of the site. Globe CEO Mike Sheehan told the paper’s reporter that a confidentiality agreement that is part of the deal precludes him from giving additional details.
On Tuesday, the Boston Business Journal (BBJ) reported that the new buyer of the Globe property is David Ridini of Center Court Properties, a New York-based firm. The Reporter has confirmed that the buyer is in fact Ridini and Center Court. The sales price for the property has not yet been disclosed, but a source familiar with the deal says that it will exceed the $80 million price reported by the BBJ.
On Wednesday, Mayor Walsh told the Reporter that he did not yet know what the new buyers of the Globe property intend to do with the site.
“I’m more concerned about finding out who’s buying it,” Walsh told the Reporter, who said that he had reached out to the Globe to “set up a meeting with John Henry to talk about what’s going on there.”
In 2011, a BRA-led community task force created a 152-page Master Plan for Columbia Point that envisioned the redevelopment of the Boston Globe and adjacent properties in the event that the Globe property would eventually be sold. The document envisioned a mix of housing and retail in a dense new community that would stretch from JFK-UMass station to Savin Hill— with new street connections to the peninsula and Mt. Vernon Street.
Mayor Walsh, who participated in the formulation of that original master plan document, said it would likely need to be updated with new buyers in place.
“At some point we have to revisit [the master plan], because there’s a lot of uncertainty. I don’t know who bought the Globe. I haven’t been informed by the Globe who bought it,” Walsh said.
Eileen Boyle, the president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, said that the civic group has had no communication with the Globe or any potential buyers about the site’s re-use. She said the group is “very concerned” about what the “new order” on the boulevard will look like. “Columbia-Savin Hill, as Dorchester, should be nervous,” she added.
An earlier sales agreement between the Globe and Winstanley Enterprises, a development firm based in Concord, Mass., collapsed in February 2015 after the buyer reportedly failed to secure financing for the purchase. The Globe announced last fall that it will relocate its newsroom and sales force to an office in downtown Boston by the end of 2016. It since has secured space on State Street for front office, advertising, and newsroom staff. The paper is moving its printing operations to a new facility in Taunton and expects to be in full production there in the fall.