Business & Tech

WinnCompanies picked to expand, rebuild Southie housing complex, a $1.6b project

Mary Ellen McCormack Housing project in February 1988.
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Mary Ellen McCormack Housing project in February 1988.

The city’s oldest public housing development is slated to get a $1.6 billion renovation that will add several thousand units and place new residents paying market rates alongside low-income tenants.

The 79-year-old Mary Ellen McCormack complex in South Boston will become the second public housing project in the city to be converted to a modern, mixed-income community that may include retail offerings such as a supermarket or restaurants, the Boston Housing Authority said Thursday.

The authority selected WinnCompanies, one of the nation’s largest housing companies, from a crowded field of developers angling for the rights to the 27-acre property, with its prime location just steps from two Red Line stops.

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Winn is proposing to replace the 1,016 subsidized apartments at the McCormack with 3,139 new units that will include middle-income and market-rate apartments and some condominiums.

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Plans also suggested adding outdoor community event space, small-business retail, a supermarket, and perhaps restaurants on Old Colony Avenue.

The BHA is seeking to partner with private developers to update its aging complexes by allowing them to add market-rate units in exchange for building new housing for low-income tenants. It previously selected another Boston developer, Corcoran-Jennison Associates, to remake its sprawling complex in Charlestown. But the plan from Corcoran-Jennison to triple the size of the complex has drawn stiff neighborhood opposition.

WinnCompanies chief executive Gilbert Winn said the company intends to redevelop McCormack “into a first-class, mixed-income neighborhood.”

“We recognize the property is old and therefore requires a major redevelopment effort,” Winn said in a statement. “Our goal then is to move through the formal approval process as quickly as possible while paying close attention to resident and community input.”

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Connecting the McCormack to the rest of the neighborhood is what most appeals to many current tenants, said Sister Ann Fox, cofounder of Paraclete Academy, an after-school program that has served students living at the McCormack for years. Fox said she has been to meetings at which tenants have given input on the future of the complex.

“Anything they can do to help make it more of a community. . . . I’m a big proponent of the mixed income and the retail,” Fox said. “I don’t think the poor should be all by themselves and the wealthy all in their gated communities.”

Although some residents are concerned about relocation, Fox said the city did a good job when it relocated residents of the nearby Old Colony public housing complex when it was being redeveloped.

Fox said that with more than 3,000 units, “the real issue will be parking and traffic. That will be a real concern.”

George Benner, president of the Mary Ellen McCormack Tenant Task Force, said he has “heard good things of Winn” and that all the bids were good.

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“It’s exciting times in the city,” Benner said. “It’s a little scary in regard to the gentrification, but it’s a good opportunity for people.”

Kate Bennett, the BHA deputy administrator for planning and sustainability, said the agency received “solid” bids from five prominent developers but said Winn’s reputation for working with the community, as well as the feasibility of its proposal, “won the day for them.”

“We need a developer that can really work well with the community, not just the residents but the broader community as well,” Bennett said. “We also felt like they had a very feasible proposal. We though they were realistic about cost; they had a reasonable financial plan.”

Winn proposes to rebuild the McCormack over four phases that could take up to 10 years to complete. The plan, which still needs to be approved by a number of city, state, and federal agencies, now enters the design phase and could change with input from residents and the community.

Winn has proposed replacing the 1,016 federally subsidized rental units on a one-for-one basis, consolidating the 27 three-story brick buildings in the complex into about a half-dozen six-story buildings.

About 2,000 residents currently live in the complex. They would be relocated with assistance from the city during the redevelopment and will have the right to return after the project is completed.

The market-rate buildings will be high-rises of at least 10 stories along the Southeast Expressway. They will include so-called workforce housing for middle-income residents who earn up to 120 percent of the area’s median income. All the units, regardless of affordability level, will be of identical quality and integrated evenly, according to the BHA.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh stressed in a statement the importance of preserving public housing in the city, citing the public-private partnership as “another example of our commitment to improving the quality of the lives of the public housing residents of Boston.”

BHA administrator Bill McGonagle, who grew up in the development, said McCormack “is a community that is near and dear to me; in fact I call it home.”

“Preserving housing developments by creating partnerships with developers who understand the value of community is key to maintaining our housing stock in this city,” he said.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.