Harvard Street Health looks to close on former Franklin Park Theatre

The Phase 1 remake of the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center campus features a new health center building on Old Road and Ellington Street. That plan was filed last week with the BPDA. Future phases will focus on Blue Hill Avenue buildings.

The Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center (HSNHC) last Friday filed plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency for a revamp of its Blue Hill Avenue campus. On the same day, the health center learned that its bid at a public auction for a building abutting their campus that at one time was the Franklin Park Theatre, and most recently served as the New Fellowship Baptist Church, had been accepted.

Charley Murphy, the health center’s president, hopes to close on its purchase of the 616 Blue Hill Ave. building within 30 days. The price was not disclosed.

“We are taking two, three, or four weeks to do due diligence to make sure everything is in line, and we will close within 30 days if it all goes well,” Murphy said, adding, “with an eye to the future, we wanted to acquire it now.”

The old theatre and church has been in disrepair and under court-ordered receivership for some time. If the acquisition goes through, the building would be placed into the second phase of the campus construction project. The theatre entrance occupies only one storefront on Blue Hill Avenue, but the brick building rises to five stories behind the entrance.

Murphy said that in the center’s Phase 2 plans, they have already detailed the demolition of the existing health center building and building anew with their partner, The Community Builders (TCB). That building will have health center space on the ground floor and affordable housing above it. If the theatre purchase goes through, Murphy said they would demolish it at the same time as the existing health center and proceed with the same model – health center operations on the ground floor and affordable housing above. Phase 2 is at least three years down the road, he said.

“There are a lot of possibilities if we do close on the theatre building, probably offering additional services or working with a partner to offer physical therapy perhaps, and any other specialties to meet the needs of the community,” Murphy said. “We have not sat down and made any plans for it yet, but it’s a nice option to have.”

Before that building entered receivership, the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) had worked closely with the church to try to shore up the failing structure. But it was eventually put into receivership and some repairs were made, specifically to the roof. It was then cleaned up for the auction.

In a related matter, the first phase of the HSNHC’s overhaul plans formally entered the BPDA’s small project review process last Friday. The first meeting is scheduled for June 20 at 6 p.m.

Phase 1 proposes to redevelop parcels located at 8 Old Rd., 14 Ellington St., and 16 Ellington St. with the new construction of a 42,300-square-foot health center with clinical, laboratory, and pharmacy sub-uses. Most neighbors are acquainted with the proposal already, as it has been shopped around in pre-filing public meetings sponsored by the health center.

Murphy said the potential new building combined with Phase 1 and all the ongoing investments in Blue Hill Avenue and Franklin Park bring some real excitement to that neighborhood.

“The timing is perfect with the health center going up, and potentially this second building going up across from what will be a new-look Franklin Park entrance and ongoing changes to infrastructure on Blue Hill Avenue – all at similar times,” he said. “It puts a new face on Blue Hill Avenue.”

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