New frontiers of economic growth in Boston

As a building boom transforms Boston’s skyline, construction cranes have popped up in places where they haven’t been seen in years.

In East Boston, hundreds of new apartments are rising on a waterfront that also boasts revitalized parks and breathtaking views of downtown. Roxbury’s Dudley Square is attracting interest from a wide array of local and national retailers promising to bring new life to a forgotten commercial district. And in the South End, a scrubby, industrial area is being transformed into a new neighborhood with hundreds of homes, a Whole Foods supermarket, and spaces for restaurants and stores.

For the first time in decades, Boston’s neighborhoods — and not just its downtown core — are benefiting from redevelopment that is creating new frontiers of economic growth. They are places that always had loads of potential, but never attracted significant investment — until now.

Here is a breakdown of places to watch in a real estate renaissance spreading across the city.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

East Boston waterfront

  • On a shoreline marked by craggy piers and fallow industrial land, the first sign of renewal burst from the ground last winter — an apartment and retail complex called Portside at East Pier.

  • The project on Marginal Street will eventually include more than 560 residences, 70,000 square feet of stores and restaurants, a fitness center, theater room, and public path along the harbor. Its developer had delayed construction for more than a decade, but now is moving forward rapidly as Boston’s population swells.

  • “This location gives you fabulous views, a five-minute T ride into the city, and a slightly more affordable price,” said Marshall Tycher, copresident of project developer Roseland, a subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corp.

  • The development is one of several residential projects plotted for a strip of waterfront property poised for dramatic transformation. All told, more than 1,250 apartments and condominiums are approved for construction in coming years, while other developers are buying property with plans to add to that total.

  • Gerding Edlen, a Portland, Ore., development firm, is planning to build about 250 apartments on a 4-acre parcel on New Street.

  • The area’s revival started in Maverick Square, where rehabilitation of the MBTA station and development of a neighborhood health center helped attract new retail and dining options. The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, also helped create the East Boston Greenway, a string of parks that will eventually run from Constitution Beach to Piers Park.

  • The authority owns the property where Portside at East Pier is being constructed and signed a long-term lease to allow that project to proceed.

  • Thomas Glynn, Massport’s chief executive, said the complex will help bring a more diverse mix of incomes to a neighborhood that has long been one of the city’s poorest. “In East Boston,” he said, “people feel like we would have a stronger community going forward with some more middle- and upper-income housing stock.”

  • Rents at Portside at East Pier will range between $1,900 a month for a studio and $3,300 for a two-bedroom unit. While not exactly cheap, those rents are several hundred dollars a month less than those for similar units under construction downtown.

  • Public officials reviewing the plans are pledging that development of the new apartments and condos won’t interfere with access to the harbor.

  • “My job is to make sure the waterfront doesn’t become like a gated community,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina, a lifelong East Boston resident. “We want to make sure there’s plenty of retail and community space so people feel welcome into these developments.”

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Dudley Square, Roxbury

  • This commercial district at Boston’s geographic core is changing faster than any neighborhood in the city.

  • Five major developments are planned for the streets around the square. Together, they promise more than 700 new residences, several hotels, a supermarket, restaurants, stores, and offices.

  • The centerpiece of the effort is the Ferdinand Building, a former furniture store being renovated into the new administrative headquarters for Boston public schools. Several retailers are proposing to open on the building’s ground floor, including local favorite Haley House bakery and national chains such as Starbucks.

  • “I’m very encouraged to see someone like a Starbucks,” said restaurateur Darryl Settles, who hopes to open an Italian restaurant in the Ferdinand Building. “That changes a neighborhood by itself. If you’re able to bring businesses that have clout and likability, then others are going to want to come as well.”

  • Many Dudley Square residents worry that national chains will undermine locally owned companies. But for a neighborhood that has struggled to attract outside investment in recent years, signing leases with established firms can spur other development.

  • For example, the warehouse store chain BJ’s is in negotiations to open a 90,000-square-foot outlet that would anchor a $350 million redevelopment of property known as Parcel 3 on Tremont Street. The project has languished for years, but a final commitment from BJ’s could help win financing to proceed with construction of 350 apartments, 40 to 50 additional stores and restaurants, an extended-stay hotel, and an African-American art museum.

  • In addition to rehabilitating the Ferdinand Building, the city has built a new police station and renovated the public library branch. Officials plan to spend more than $400,000 on public art, including a large, lighted sculpture designed to symbolize the area’s potential to attract technology companies, entrepreneurs, and new residents.

  • “There is already a vibrant art community, and we want to attract businesses and labs,” said Eric Höweler, a principal of Höweler + Yoon, the architecture firm designing the sculpture. “We think about the boroughs of New York that are hotbeds for artistic activity and innovative companies. There is no reason why Roxbury can’t be that.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Harrison Avenue, South End

  • In the next couple of years, two city blocks in the shadows of Interstate 93 will become host to million-dollar condominiums, the city’s largest Whole Foods grocery store, and hundreds of luxury apartments.

  • While the broader South End arrived long ago, this pocket of former industrial properties along Harrison Avenue and Albany Street has remained a no man’s land for development until the last several months.

  • The biggest project is at the former headquarters of the Boston Herald, where Newton-based National Development is constructing a multibuilding complex called the Ink Block. In addition to more than 470 apartments and condominiums, the project will include a rooftop pool and lounge, a 50,000-square-foot Whole Foods, and spaces for additional stores and restaurants.

  • The administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh also approved construction of a 560-unit apartment complex at nearby 345 Harrison Ave. that will include 30,000 square feet of retail space. Another 380 homes are under construction in two buildings at 275 Albany St.

  • In a statement, Walsh said the Albany Street development, to be named Troy, is part of the investment in an important South End corridor that “is revitalizing and reconnecting the neighborhood with Chinatown, the Theater District, and South Boston.”

  • Those neighborhoods are also experiencing a burst of building activity. Three towering apartment complexes are rising in Chinatown, and South Boston and its waterfront Innovation District are packed with office and residential projects.

  • Some real estate investors have raised concerns that the luxury apartment market is getting overbuilt in Boston, with more than 8,000 units planned in the next three years. But for consumers, that’s not a bad thing, as it could help to control the city’s sky-high rents.

Casey Ross can be reached at
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