At the corner of Uphams Avenue and Hancock Street in Uphams Corner, just steps away from the Strand Theatre, sits a low brick building at 8-12 Hancock Street with boarded-up windows and gashes of graffiti. Once the home of Cataloni’s bar, the building has been vacant since 2010.
“It’s certainly an eyesore on the street, but that’s about as much as I can say,” Brenda Harley, president of the Hancock Street Civic Association, told the Reporter. Harley has lived in Uphams Corner for about 15 years and was elected president of the association last June.
The developer Benjamin Virga, a Duxbury resident, agrees the building is an eyesore, but last April he abandoned his plans to reimagine the space. The year before, he and his business partner, Luke Marut of Bridgestone Properties, who have been working in real estate and property management in Dorchester and Mattapan since 2008 and moved the company’s office to Columbia Road in 2015, revealed plans to use the site as a recreational marijuana dispensary.
They next had to jump through hurdles, including neighborhood pushback and working on licensing agreements. Before receiving a dispensary license from the Cannabis Control Commission, a prospective store must first execute a Host Community Agreement (HCA) in the municipality. The HCA outlines the required conditions - including security systems and participation in community drug education and abuse prevention programs - that a prospective dispensary must meet before it’s allowed to operate.
“We weren’t able to get a host community agreement done with the city of Boston and it didn’t make sense for us to keep going,” Virga told the Reporter in an interview last Friday. “We were renting the building before we bought it and we reached the tipping point where it wasn’t worth investing any more capital. Cut our losses, so to speak. We notified the sellers that we were gonna exercise our right to walk away from the deal and we did and that was pretty much it.”
Virga says he’s not sure why Boston didn’t approve the HCA. He has since secured one with Marshfield and intends to open a dispensary there late this year or early in 2021.
The Hancock Street property, where the local resident Anthony Cataloni once ran his tavern, is not without a contentious past. In March 2008, 22-year-old David Tyrone Williams of Dorchester was shot outside of the bar. A spate of three arrests in 2010 involving the alleged purchase and sale of cocaine by customers led to the closure of the bar, which at the time was called a “drug bazaar out of control” by Daniel Pokaski, then Boston Licensing Board chairman.
The building remains a sore spot in a neighborhood eyed for revival. In 2017, the city moved forward with plans to reimagine Uphams Corner as an Arts and Innovation district with affordable housing, increased commerce, revived main streets, and improved public transportation. Mayor Martin Walsh’s Imagine Boston 2030 plan, described by his administration as “first citywide plan in more than 50 years,” includes plans to activate the area as “a vital cultural anchor.”
Not all residents, though, were happy with an increase in commerce stemming from a pot shop at the Cataloni’s site. Members of the Hancock Street Civic Association and the Jones Hill Neighborhood Association vigorously opposed Virga’s plans during community meetings.
Hancock Street Civic’s Harley hopes that the space can still be put to good use. “We want something that’s certainly community friendly,” she said. “And when I say that I mean something that perhaps could be used by the kids and the youth of our neighborhood. I think we would even be open to having another restaurant but something more on the healthier side. We have enough fast food restaurants in our vicinity. Our first choice would be something our community could take advantage of and use, be it a community center or something along those lines that benefits everybody.”
According to the office of City Councillor Frank Baker, there are currently no plans for the building’s redevelopment.
As a developer, Virga isn’t sure what shape the building could take. “[The owner] didn’t pay a lot of money for it and it’s probably not costing him much to hold it,” he told the Reporter. “And I think he figures at some point someone will give him more than it’s worth right now and he’ll wait for that time. Because it almost happened to us. I mean, we were gonna pay him a million dollars for it.”
He added: “Probably the only chance of it being worth a million dollars is if we’d gotten a Host Community Agreement. But you know, someone else could come up with another use for it that will add value. It’s probably worth a third of that as it stands. So, he’s probably gonna just wait to see what happens.”