South End residents appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of National Development’s “Ink Block” proposal for the former Boston Herald site, if Thursday’s first public meeting on the project is any indication.
About 50 people turned out for the project’s first look and a public discussion, which was held by the Boston Redevelopment Authority at Project Place on Washington Street.
Below is a quick-hit list of everything that was covered. All quotes below came from Thursday’s meeting.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority is accepting public comments on the proposal until Friday, March 9 (scroll down to the bottom for more information). After that, National Development will bring the proposal before the authority’s board for approval.
● The players: National Development, a Newton-based real estate development firm, bought the former Boston Herald site five years ago and is behind the “Ink Block” proposal. The firm has an extensive portfolio of local projects, and Sherry Clancy is the firm’s project manager for the proposal. Architect David Manfredi, a South End resident from Elkus Manfredi Architects, designed the project.
● The site: The former site of the Boston Herald for more than 50 years, at 300 Harrison Ave., is 6.22 acres. It encompasses the entire block between Herald Street to the north, Albany Street to the east, Traveler Street to the south and Harrison Avenue to the west, except for three properties along Albany Street – an insurance agency, a taxi stand and the F.W. Webb building.
“The Herald has officially left the building,” Clancy said Thursday. “They moved out last Friday (Feb. 17).”
● Size and scope of the project: National Development’s plans call for the construction of three new buildings, which would all be between 70 and 100 feet high, and the reuse of the existing Boston Herald building, mainly for its foundation. The four buildings would be five, eight, eight and nine stories high and together would be nearly 550,000 square feet.
There would be 471 new residential units and a total of about 85,000 square feet of retail space, including a 30,000-square-foot space for a grocery store and multiple smaller, ground-floor spaces for retail and/or restaurants.
There would be 411 parking spaces on site, primarily in structured parking. There would be about half a parking space for each residential unit, Clancy said.
National Development’s proposal last spring only called for 262 residential units at the site. However, the city’s approval of the Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan in January allowed the firm to expand its proposal.
The project is expected to cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Ted Tye, a managing partner at National Development, recently told the Boston Globe.
● Timeframe: “In a perfect world, we’d start demolition in the fall,” Clancy said, “[and try] to start construction by the end of the year, or by the start of next year.” The project would most likely be built sequentially, she said, with a target date of 2016 for its entire completion.
● Whole Foods not likely: “We tried very hard to attract Whole Foods,” Clancy said to a resident’s question, “… but it’s probably not going to happen.” A grocery store like Stop & Shop is more likely, she said, as they’ve built a couple smaller, “urban” supermarkets in recent years. In general, residents said a grocery store is much needed in that area.
● Resident: Go big or go home: Practically all residents in attendance appeared to be overwhelmingly in favor of the project. However, Bill Moy, a longtime community activist in Chinatown, wasn’t sold on the current proposal.
He thought National Development should be putting more money into the project, such as buying and developing the other three properties in the block.
“Those businesses are going to be empty … and bums are going to come down there, and they’re going to live there, you know that,” he told Clancy. “… if you had bought [those properties], you really could’ve used your imagination.”
“This project as it exists today doesn’t fit what we need in this area,” he continued. “This should be an anchor site for the South End and for Chinatown, and you’re putting a suburban mall in an urban setting, and that’s not doing justice to this site and this area.”
● Public safety: “It’s a little bit of a frontier right now,” Clancy said of the area, “but we’re trying to bring that kind of neighborhood, that kind of presence, so that it will improve public safety.”
● Pedestrian access, streetscape: “We’re trying to create a ground floor that engages pedestrians,” Manfredi said.
● One hundred percent union labor: National Development plans to use 100 percent union labor to construct the project, according to Clancy.
● Affordable housing: All-required affordable housing would be on site, Clancy said.
● Public comments due Friday, March 9: Project Assistant Erico Lopez is the point person for the Boston Redevelopment Authority on the project, and, at Thursday’s meeting, he encouraged members of the public to submit letters with their thoughts on the project via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or to: Boston Redevelopment Authority, One City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA 02201. If you have any questions, Lopez can be reached at 617-918-4429. Letters can also be faxed to Lopez at 617-742-7783.