Update on plans for Uphams Corner art district set to be aired today

A BPDA graphic denotes key parcels along Columbia Road that would anchor the Uphams Corner Arts & Innovation District.

A virtual BPDA meeting slated for next Thursday (Nov. 19) at 6 p.m. will discuss the latest plans for the Uphams Corner Arts & Innovation District, a stretch of properties along Columbia Road that has been eyed by the city for several years as an “Enhanced Neighborhood Pilot” area ripe for rejuvenation.

Preliminary plans made in 2017 as part of Mayor Martin Walsh’s “Imagine Boston 2030” program envisioned a revitalized Strand Theatre and a brand new Uphams Corner branch of the Boston Public Library as two key anchors of the project, which would help reestablish the neighborhood as an arts hub and spur “development without displacement.”

After the city conducted a community engagement process in 2017 and 2018, legal issues delayed the release of the project’s Request for Proposals (RFPs), which had been expected in 2019, and then the coronavirus pandemic further delayed planning operations this year.

An outline of the agenda for next week’s meeting indicates the BPDA will provide updates on the status of those RFP’s, which solicited proposals from development teams for a revitalized Strand Theatre with a long-term operating partner and expanded programming, an $18 million, 15,000-square-foot redesigned public library, and affordable housing and commercial space that would be accessible to local residents and artists.

Calls to restore the area’s cultural staples have reverberated around the neighborhood for a number of years, and with good reason: The once-iconic Strand lies unused for much of the year apart from the occasional concert or ballet show, and the library has been in need of a facelift since it moved to its current location at Columbia Road and Bird Street in 1904.

A new organization would operate the Strand and expand its current arts and education programming, while potentially also collaborating or sharing space with the new library, slated to occupy adjacent space on Columbia Road.

In addition to the Strand at 543 Columbia Rd., and the library, which would occupy the city-owned property at No. 555 that formerly housed Bank of America, other parcels involved in the plan include the Citizens Bank building across the street (formerly Dorchester Savings Bank), the Citizens Bank parking lot, and a municipal parking lot on Hamlet Street.

These parcels, acquired by the city in 2017 or prior through a partnership with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), total nearly 100,000 square feet of property.

Next week’s meeting will also divulge any additional parcels that may have entered the fold, as planners indicated was a possibility considering certain community partners who were “game” to work with the city.

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. 

The meeting will conclude with a BPDA Demonstration Project Plan, which will shed light on the future of those parcels, and an outline of the city’s next steps.

Construction on the project was initially scheduled to begin by last fall, but will now likely get under way in 2021.

The session will be accessible virtually through Zoom. Translation services will be provided upon request. You can register for the meeting here: http://bit.ly/uphams1119.