A busy stretch of Dorchester Avenue in South Boston could soon be home to an Amazon warehouse that ships goods all over the city.
Developers who own a 96,000-square-foot warehouse on Alger Street are seeking zoning changes that would allow the e-commerce giant to open one of its “last-mile” distribution centers there, in the middle of a corridor the city has long considered suited for larger-scale development. If the change is approved later this month, Amazon hopes to open the facility by year’s end.
It would be the latest foray by Amazon into the core of Greater Boston, as the company ramps up its real-time delivery offerings via smaller warehouses closer to more customers than massive facilities like its 1.3 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Fall River.
It would also be temporary: The developers promise to limit Amazon to a 10-year lease. The money involved, they say, would help fund environmental cleanup and help spark the redevelopment of other sites they own nearby.
The warehouse, until recently occupied by Blue Cross Blue Shield, sits in a formerly industrial strip between Dorchester Avenue and the railroad tracks where a 2016 Boston Planning & Development Agency plan envisioned a new mixed-use neighborhood of dense housing and offices. Core Investments ― which is co-developing the 746-unit Washington Village complex across Dorchester Avenue from the proposed Amazon site ― has been amassing property in the area in recent years, said that’s still the plan.
Leasing the warehouse to Amazon, said Core’s president of development, John Cissel, will help pay for the cleanup of a large, heavily polluted lot north of Andrew Square Station on the Red Line that has been vacant for years. And when the deal is up in 10 years, the site will be redeveloped, as originally planned.
“This is just an intermediate use,” he said. “Our goal is, quite honestly, to transform this neighborhood. This project really is the catalyst that helps us with the environmental work.”
In the meantime, though, it would become a busy shipping warehouse. A recent presentation to the Andrew Square Civic Association described an operation with trailers full of goods arriving nightly, and “waves” of delivery vans fanning out across the city each morning, starting at 9:30 a.m., after the heaviest traffic has subsided. The Amazon Flex drivers, who use their own cars, would also pass through each afternoon to pick up packages. Delivery vans would return in the evening.
It’s an approach Amazon is working on perfecting as it builds more of its smaller distribution centers in or near big cities such as Boston. The company has similar facilities in Dedham and Everett and proposed one in Braintree, but later scrapped that plan amid disputes with the town over traffic.
“We are excited to increase our investment in the Boston metro area with a new delivery station that will provide fast and efficient deliveries and create hundreds of job opportunities for the talented local workforce," an Amazon spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
The presentation and plan for the warehouse were first reported by a real estate trade publication, Banker & Tradesman.
Developers wouldn’t share precise traffic calculations, but their presentation showed detailed traffic-flow maps and estimated that two-thirds of the trips would head north on Dorchester Avenue toward downtown. Even during peak rush hours, the effect on traffic would be minor, said Tom Tinlin, a longtime city and state transportation official and South Boston resident who’s working as a traffic consultant on the project. Shifting delivery vehicles to off-peak times would reduce that even further.
“Granted, it’s a busy corridor, but it would still work even during rush hours," Tinlin said. “Shifting it later in the morning, the impacts are extremely minimal.”
Core said the project won approval from the Andrew Square Civic Association. Its leaders did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The plan would also need the blessing of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, which is scheduled to review it this month. Because an existing warehouse would be reused, the project will not undergo the typically more-extensive Boston Planning & Development Agency approval process, though a spokeswoman said that agency would review it and make a recommendation to the ZBA.
The BPDA’s “Plan Dot Ave” — as the corridor study is known — calls for millions of square feet of new housing and office space in the area and a sizable new park, but was never formally written into the city’s zoning after being adopted in 2016. The BPDA was starting more-detailed transportation plans, which generally called for making the auto-centric strip more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists, in March, when public meetings were halted because of the coronavirus crisis.
Yet the big-picture vision of a dense and lively neighborhood west of Dorchester Avenue remains, said Cissel and Core’s CEO, Dave Pogorelc. This, along with other smaller projects like a new restaurant and dog park, are just the first steps.
“This is not about keeping it status quo," Cissel said. "This is really the first step in a transformation.”