City picks developer for key location in Uphams Corner

An early rendering of the proposed design of the Civico/DREAM Collaborative building at 555-559 Columbia Rd.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board last Thursday awarded a tentative designation to a team that plans to redevelop the former Bank of America property at 555-559 Columbia Rd. in Uphams Corner.

The vote followed a ten-month competitive process that resulted in a recommendation from city officials and community leaders to award the city-owned property to Civico Development and DREAM Collaborative.

Civico-DREAM is proposing 33 units of affordable homeownership units (70 to 100 percent of AMI) in a development that will preserve the façade of the old bank building, provide parking, and deliver the shell of what will be a new Uphams Corner Branch Library.

The team beat out a proposal by Caritas-NHP Foundation that focused on 72 affordable rental units at a variety of price points and amenities like artist-in-residence space, entrepreneur residences, a café, innovation lab, and maker space studios.

The library shell was included as well, but there was no parking provided in that proposal.

Taylor Bearden, of Civico, said the team is “very enthusiastic” and ready to do real work now that they have authority via the designation. To be able to work through the tentative designation with the BPDA and the broader community “is an exciting opportunity,” said Bearden. “This is where we step up our engagement,” he added. “I see the tentative designation as step one…The engagement done during the RFP is in service of what happens now. I’m excited to now have the leeway to engage with stakeholders the way we talked about doing.”

The recommendation memo to the BPDA board indicated that after several meetings online, and one in person, the last discussion being this past January, city officials, and the Working Advisory Group (WAG) for Uphams Corner preferred the Civico plan.

“The overall design of the building would preserve and respect the historic fabric of Columbia Road in Upham’s Corner,” the memo noted. “The five-story height provides a contextual and coherent elevation design. The open space along the corner of Cushing Avenue and Columbia Road can be enjoyed by residents, patrons of the library, and the general public. The proposal also intends on preserving the existing building façade and murals currently on the site.”

Several city officials, elected officials, and agencies were asked by the Reporter for comment on the decision, but none had responded by press time.

Bearden said Civico, which is based in Worcester and does most of its developing outside of Boston, was initially drawn to the project by the idea of locating housing and amenities above a branch library. While that novel notion sometimes got lost in the many meetings about the property, Bearden said his team remains dazzled by the prospects of having a public amenity inside the development.

“I think the library… is a unique opportunity as a developer to participate in a process that will be part of bringing a library to the community,” he said. “The library is a space in the community where they truly welcome all at no cost…We don’t often get to participate in the construction of public space. I am thrilled with that…To play even a minor role in a truly public space for young and old is exciting.”

The project’s expected cost is $22.8 million, and Civico has proposed to pay the BPDA $38,400 annually in long-term lease payments. While an appraisal last year valued the project at $3 per square foot, Civico’s proposed payments figure out to be $0.68 per square foot.

The tentative part of the designation requires that several developer milestones be completed by Jan. 31, 2024 – though it is common for the BPDA board to extend the designation if the developer is making progress toward a list of requirements that includes evidence of obtaining financing, a BPDA Design Review, completion of the BPDA Article 80 process, building permits, and the negotiation of a ground lease with the BPDA.

Bearden said the team is ready to engage with the community in a detailed dialogue about its proposal. “I’d like to make it known we value these upcoming conversations,” he said.

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