Bullish on its project goals, Dorchester Bay EDC seeks more in-house feedback

The Pierce Building, above, rises from a prominent Uphams Corner intersection along Columbia Road. The structure is scheduled for a major renovation, including an interior gut, in the coming years. Below, the chief executive officer of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, Perry Newman, stands in his office in the Pierce Building. Jennifer Smith photo

Perry Newman

The Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, now in its 39th year of advocating for community equity, is still going strong as it adapts to a turbulent and uncertain environment for affordable housing funding and a renewed appetite for civic engagement.

Perry Newman, the chief executive officer at Dorchester Bay, is bullish about the group’s evolution and expansion on the project side, as well as inside the EDC itself as the firm encourages its diverse workforce to feel empowered to offer feedback on its projects and its mission.

“I’ll say that I’ve been here coming up on three years and the organization is doing well and doing really good things,” Newman said. Dorchester Bay works with affordable housing and commercial real estate, he notes, and “everything we do is designed to make an impact in the lives of the community that we serve.”

Dorchester Bay’s own headquarters are in for a dramatic overhaul. The Pierce Building, smack in the middle of Uphams Corner, will be completely gutted and redone over the next year or two.

“Well, it will be a big job,” Newman said from the conference room in their third-floor office space. “And we’re in the midst of assembling the financing, and of course all the tax credits necessary to make it economically viable. We want this building to be a magnet and the epicenter of Uphams Corner. So we’re going through an intentional community process of deciding what’s going to go in that first floor space where the Payless shoe store used to be.”

The Fairmount Innovation Lab, an incubator for boosting creative enterprises along the Fairmount Corridor, works out of the second floor. The entire building is slated for a full interior gut and renovation, and exterior restoration is already under way.

When Mayor Martin Walsh announced his Imagine Boston 2030 master plan last year in Uphams Corner, Dorchester Bay asked the public to weigh in on what they would like to see. They set up a comment board in the former Payless store at the corner of Columbia Road and Dudley Street.

“The overwhelming consensus was some kind of community coffee space, cafe kind of thing, or place where people can sit and hang, you know, and so forth,” Newman said. “But my favorite was ‘organic food cafe, but no kale.’”

Dorchester Bay has helped a number of new local businesses, including Honeycomb Cafe in Savin Hill, which has quickly become a neighborhood staple in the increasingly bustling area around the T station. The EDC partnered with LISC Small Business to lend capital to locals Lara and Nicole Miele for their farm-to-takeout cafe.

Several of their affordable housing projects are awaiting tax credits, Newman said. Indigo Block, a mixed-use project poised to transform a former warehouse near the Uphams Corner MBTA station, is one of them. Boston Capital, Escazu Development, and Dorchester Bay will develop the city-owned site with 80 units of various levels of affordable housing, nine market rate homeownership units, and 20,000 square feet of light industrial and commercial space on two floors.

The project received city approvals in June 2016 and was awarded some city funding in January 2017.

“There’s a whole process and basically a queue to get low-income housing tax credits awarded,” Newman said, “and we are now, we think, towards the front of the queue. You know, nobody really knows, but if we are successful and get those tax credits awarded in the summer, which is typically when they come up, we’ll be shovel ready.”

According to Dorchester Bay’s 2017 annual report, Indigo Block is expected to start construction in late 2018 or early 2019, with all components expected to be completed by early 2020.

The Cottage Brook Apartments, comprised of 19 buildings all at least 90 years old in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood, is nearly finished with a comprehensive modernization. It is the biggest development in Dorchester Bay’s portfolio and is home to 147 households.

Outside of development projects, Newman highlighted a new initiative geared toward helping smaller businesses and entrepreneurs get a head start. The Innovation Lending platform offers an online lending portal, “cutting-edge financial tools, and new strategic partnerships into communities where capital, technical assistance and other supports are badly needed,” according to a May 16 announcement.

Newman referred to a recent report entitled “The Color of Wealth,” assessing the net worth of families in Boston.

“The wealth gap in Boston is staggering and just intolerable,” Newman said. “You know, the media net worth of a white person is $248,000. The median net worth of an African American is $8. Like how can that be?

“So one of the, one of the most effective ways of chipping away at that and enabling people to build wealth is not merely from a good job, which we really help people do, but also to kind of launch them [into] entrepreneurship and getting a chance to start their own business,” he said.

Partnering with The City of Boston’s Office of Financial Empowerment and private legal services company Enquiron, Dorchester Bay can connect prospective business owners with resources and a flexible lending model.

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Looking back, looking ahead: The organization will host its 39th annual fundraiser bash — “Dorchester Then and Now: Community for All” — on Thurs., June 7 at the Franklin Park Zoo. “So we have a reputation for throwing really good parties,” Newman said, “and that it’s all attributable to Angela Yarde who’s our associate director of resource development money… The event is important to us, not only because it’s a great vehicle for us to kind of connect with the people we work with and who we serve and all that kind of stuff [but because] it’s just a lot of fun. That’s the opportunity for us to shine a light on great people and so forth.”

Each year, Dorchester Bay recognizes individuals for their contribution to the community. The 2018 honorees are Ed Forry, co-founder and publisher-emeritus of the Reporter newspapers, and James T. Brett, president and CEO of the New England Council. Frank Holland, anchor and reporter for NBC 10 Boston and NECN, will emcee the event and Boston musician Athene Wilson and her band will keep the music flowing.

Fundraisers like this help provide a cushion for the EDC beyond project-specific grants, said Newman. “This enables us not necessarily just to respond to things that we’d like to do for Dorchester Bay, but [as an] opportunity to develop a new program for which we have not yet even conceived of where we would go for the grant. We could do a leadership institute for adults, which is in our strategic plan. So you know, we can do all kinds of things if we have the resources to do it. And this is a big part of that.”