The city of Boston’s Public Facilities board voted last week to sell two adjacent parcels of city-owned vacant land to the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, which plans to build a new 41,000- square-foot facility on the site. The sale will be contingent on the center securing financing, community support, and city approvals for the new building, which could cost more than $26.8 million to construct.
Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development issued a Request for Proposals in 2016 that generated interest from two potential buyers— the health center and People’s Academy, Inc., a non-profit organization that proposed building a mix of housing and job training programs on the parcels, which include 14 Ellington St. and 8 Old Rd.
The health center now owns a parcel of land at 16 Ellington St. that it uses for staff parking. It partnered with Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp, (EDC) in making its proposal to the city, which included an offer to buy the two parcels for $148,000.
The People’s Academy application to the city in 2016 offered $200 to acquire the land and outlined an $18.1 million plan to build and use the property.
Sheila Dillon, the director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, said that Harvard Street’s proposal was superior, in part because of the health center’s track record in serving the community for nearly a half-century.
“There was a very robust, long community process and the abutting neighbors were very much in favor of a new health center,” said Dillon. “The financing of the proposal was also a factor, having the wherewithal to get this done.”
Dillon said that the two parcels that the city designated for sale have been “blighted for decades.” The properties formerly housed an auto repair garage and gas station.
The health center has seen a change in leadership since the initial application for the city land was filed. Last year, Stan McLaren took over as chief executive officer at the 49-year-old facility on Blue Hill Avenue. McLaren filled a vacancy left by Charley Murphy, who served as CEO from 2013 until last year. Dillon said that both men have been instrumental in moving forward on the project.
Harvard Street currently occupies about 22,000 square feet of space in a facility on Blue Hill Avenue that has not been significantly updated since the 1970s. McLaren told the Reporter that the news of the city’s official designation is an “awesome” boost for the community that depends on the center.
“The physicians here do a great job and to have a facility that matches that care, it’s what our patients deserve,” McLaren said. “It’s also an excellent economic opportunity, because we hire from the community. If we have the additional space, it allows us to have all of our services under one roof and to provide good jobs in the community and to grow.”
McLaren said that the center would plan to engage the surrounding community in the coming months to create a “shared vision” for the new building— and to discuss possible re-uses of their existing space.
“The hard work begins now for fundraising,” he said.