It has been almost five years since a group of developers bought the shuttered Boston Edison power plant that looms over South Boston’s 1st Street.
On Thursday night, the city will likely finally settle on what should get built there.
The Boston Planning & Development Agency board is set to vote on redevelopment plans for the massive power plant, which sits on 15 acres along the Reserved Channel near the Summer Street Bridge. Developers Redgate and Hilco Redevelopment Partners want to turn it into 1.7 milllion square feet of office, residential, and retail space, along with a hotel and nearly 6 acres of open space, much of it along the water.
Work on the billion-dollar-plus project, which would transform one of the few remaining industrial parts of South Boston, likely won’t start for at least a couple of years. But it has already undergone a lot of negotiations.
Initial proposals included more than twice as much residential space, but concerns from South Boston residents about traffic ― and from the neighboring Conley Terminal that future residents might someday object to a busy shipping port next door ― led the developers to reduce the overall square footage by about 20 percent, flip the mix of housing and commercial space, and locate the residential units farther from Conley and its trucking routes.
There has also been extensive back-and-forth about parking and public transportation — Redgate ultimately agreed to pay $10 million to subsidize extra bus service on routes that link South Boston and South Station — and about the scale and nature of the project’s open space. Ultimately, said Redgate principal Greg Bialecki, the goal is to create a place that feels open and welcoming to the rest of South Boston, not an island apart from it.
“We want it to be the sort of place where people from the neighborhood will come and have a cup of coffee along the water,” he said at a public meeting on the project last week. “We’re thinking about how to create an inviting environment for all ages.”
Opposition has eased as the project has evolved, but there are still some outstanding issues, particularly over how the project will mix with the Conley Terminal next door. Kelly Strong, executive director of the Boston Shipping Association, said at last week’s meeting that he generally supports the development but remains worried about traffic around the site.
“This project is still a concern to us,” he said. “People and bikes and big trucks don’t mix too well.”
That, and other issues, could get sorted out over the course of additional review. The project still needs state environmental permitting, for instance, which often looks closely at transportation issues. Massport also has yet to lift a deed restriction that blocks residential uses on the site because of its proximity to Conley and the haul road. A Massport spokeswoman said she expects conversations about that to resume after the BPDA gives its OK. And Thursday’s BDPA vote is just for a master plan; the six individual buildings will each require separate approvals.
With a favorable vote Thursday, Redgate said, it expects the remaining permitting to take several more months, followed by perhaps a year and a half to clean up the site and take down parts of the giant power plant complex. But in another couple of years, the developers hope, it could be time to build.