In Uphams Corner, discussing the interplay between the new library and the next-door Strand Theatre

Planners and community members are working to stitch together ideas for the new $18 million Uphams Corner library and updates to its neighbor, the iconic Strand Theatre, as the village’s planning implementation process chugs along.

About 50 people participated in a group discussion at the Cape Verdean Adult Day Care center on Hancock Street on Jan. 17 where they considered the pros and cons of alterations to the Strand and imaginative connections to a next-door library with 21st century features.

Colorful cards speckled the walls, remnants from a November meeting on the future of the Strand. Comments on them addressed programming and performance spaces, the theatre as a cultural hub, gentrification, a sustainable business model for the theatre, its role as a center for arts in the community, the library as a complementary resource – and the time frame for the planning process.

Feedback from the Jan. 17 meeting will inform a follow-up meeting on Wed., Feb. 28.

Some capital improvements are already under way at the Strand, said Julie Burros, the city’s chief of arts and culture. Modifications will bring it up to code, “particularly with life safety and accessibility for people with disabilities,” she said. The theatre is closed while construction is ongoing.

Priscilla Foley, director of neighborhood services for the Boston Public Library, said the library was sorting through requests from community members on aspects of the new facility – green space, a community art tie-in, and gallery areas – that could be included in the planning.
“We want the operation of the library to be as flexible and accessible as possible,” she said.

As to the Strand, the use of the 1,400-seat theatre can be limited by its monolithic nature – renting it out means booking the entire building, even if only a small portion is needed. Community members were asked to consider whether its should be preserved in its entirety, partitioned in some way, and to what extent should it interact with the new library.

The Uphams Corner Implementation Plan will stretch out across two phases. The first, about planning, is under way and will conclude with the city releasing a Request For Proposals this spring. Officials expect to select development teams next fall after considering RFP responses, with the ultimate goal of kicking off 24-30 months of construction on the parcels in the fall of 2019.

“This is about development without displacement,” said John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development. “In fact, this is a pilot project for the city. We are trying to figure out if the city can come in before a neighborhood flips, and do as much value capture as possible, so that we can have as much affordability as possible.” He added, “We think that there is a way to develop, improve, enhance the Strand and make sure we do that for the residents who live here now, and not for some other group of people who can afford it if they’re priced out.”

The planning process is focused on a number of city and land-trust-owned parcels in Uphams Corner. The city has partnered with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a local land trust, to buy several parcels around the prominent Columbia Road and Dudley Street intersection, including two early 20th century bank buildings and adjacent parking lots.

Barros noted other community partners “with land that we do not own, who are game to work with us,” saying the Santander Bank branch at the corner of Stoughton Street and Columbia Road “is in this process” and  Uphams Corner Health Center is “entertaining their sites.”

Initial implementation plan materials identified other key Uphams Corner sites for “potential redevelopment,” including the Santander location, the Maxwell property on East Cottage Street, ATCO Supply parcels on Columbia Road, retail parcels on Hancock Street, and the Leon Electric Building, a longtime neighborhood frustration abutting the Uphams Corner commuter rail station. Although the focus of Wednesday’s meeting was the connection between a new library and the Strand, the city continues to weigh its options regarding other parcels.

“We recognize that as soon as we started doing this, that some other folks – and this is what happens in the real estate market – start thinking about how much more they can sell their property for,” Barros said.

If this implementation process is successful, then RFPs could inform similar planning across the city, said Barros. “Once we get this right,” he added, “we’re going to scale this throughout the city and do more of this, where the city goes in ahead and tries to assemble as much property as possible before the private market comes in and gobbles it all up.”