No matter how hard we try, the Bowdoin/Geneva (B/G) neighborhood in Dorchester can’t seem to get ahead. Whether it’s the business district or the residential area, it seems that what is the norm elsewhere does not hold true here. For this article, I am primarily concentrating on the business area. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other issues to discuss regarding B/G at another time.
Many folks remember the saga of the brewery we almost had in our community. For the first time, there was huge support from every part of the residential and commercial district. Everyone was working together and being supportive of the brewery going into the former Casserly building (an old warehouse/garage) located between Tebroc and Topliff streets on Bowdoin Street. The building was owned by the Community Development Corporation of Boston (CDC of Boston).
Discussions between the brewery team and the CDC went on for months. Then just one week before the project was to have been heard at the Zoning Board of Appeal, the CDC of Boston backed out. The reason given? The CDC did not feel the deal was in its financial interest. The entire community was perplexed and outraged.
After this debacle, it was not easy to get the CDC to the table to discuss what they had in mind for the building. Bottom line, they had nothing in mind and would not even engage the business or residential community in a dialogue to figure out what would be in the best interest of the community for such a large structure. Most community development corporations partner with the neighborhoods they represent to figure out collaboratively what will be in the interest of folks in their target area. Not this CDC, which many people in the CDC world don’t even recognize as a real CDC.
During exchanges involving the community and James Dilday, the president of the CDC of Boston, he admitted it was his decision not to continue the deal with the brewery. Fast forward to the present: The brewery found another building on Mass. Ave. near Columbia Road in the old Peacard Building. They have received a lot of positive coverage in the media and are well on their way to opening their business. Our loss.
The plot thickens.
Many of us asked the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) to step in and finally bring the CDC of Boston to the table to move the process forward. We need to find a use that will enhance our business district, be of benefit to those of us who live in B/G, and be a destination for others outside our part of the city. It’s amazing how it has been: City development officials can bring GE to Boston, but they can’t get this CDC to the table to talk to our community about our hopes and expectations.
As of this past Thursday, the CDC of Boston has sold the Casserly Building and adjacent parcels to a company that imports cabinets and countertops from China. It will be using the Casserly Building as a warehouse, albeit with a slight concession of a showroom. The warehouse will primarily be used by contractors to pick up materials they have ordered for jobs they have elsewhere. And how is this use a benefit to Bowdoin/Geneva? How many cabinets and countertops can we all purchase? How many of the cabinet and countertop customers will be going to the businesses in our community? Just because a building has been a garage/warehouse for a hundred years, does this mean it must continue to have that use until the end of time? Would any of the real community development corporations in our city or state operate in this manner? Finally, would any CDC get away with this behavior elsewhere in Boston or in Massachusetts?
Let’s move on to the next deplorable situation in our business district. The owner of 214 Bowdoin Street utilized programs offered by the city through DND and the Main Streets to change the façade of the building. Yes, it actually looks quite nice. The existing bodega has been in this building for a long time and has strong relationships in the community. However, what we have in the commercial spaces are a hair salon (how many of those do we have?), a cell phone and repair shop (nothing new there), and, coming soon in the larger storefront, a Metro PCS franchise. One and half blocks away we have Genius Planet, a successful and neighborhood-friendly business that has been around for years and whose owner is a member of the Main Streets board. Genius Planet is a dealership for Metro PCS with over 700 Metro PCS customers, and the owner says his customers will be taken away from him and sent to the new franchise close-by.
What is the moral of this story? I hope there are many others in Bowdoin/Geneva who are tired of getting the short end of every stick. The city and its resources don’t seem to be of much help. As a community, we can’t seem to get organized like our neighbors in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. So when will this scenario stop playing out over and over? The time has come for our community to get organized. So let’s get started!
Davida Andelman is a Dorchester resident.