Two development teams have bid for the opportunity to transform a long-vacant site in Lower Roxbury that has foiled a number of other development ideas over the years.
Two teams — one led by The HYM Investment Group and My City at Peace, and another by Tishman Speyer and the newly formed Ruggles Progressive Partners — have pitched large-scale, mixed-use projects with combinations of housing, labs, and community space on a 7.7-acre site along Tremont Street known as Parcel P3.
For five decades, the property across from Boston Police Department headquarters has been the source of vexation and speculation in City Hall. It originally came under city control in the 1960s because of urban renewal efforts. Plans for the doomed Southwest Expressway tied it up for much of the 1970s. Since then it has been envisioned as a home for everything from affordable housing to a shopping mall to offices for what was then Partners HealthCare to a New England Revolution stadium.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency eventually pinned its hopes on Tremont Crossing, a 1.7-million-square foot mixed-use complex pushed by Feldco Development that was unable to pull together the financing needed. The agency pulled the development rights from Feldco in 2019, and officially began seeking new bids last October. As part of its request for proposals, the BPDA said that diversity of project teams would be counted for 25 percent of the scoring, and that two-thirds of housing must be set aside at affordable prices.
One of the two proposals is from New York real estate development firm Tishman Speyer and Ruggles Progressive Partners, which consists of five Black real estate professionals, as well as several businesses owned by women and people of color. The team also has a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory panel to hold itself accountable to its goals, said Jessica Hughes, Tishman Speyer’s regional director in Boston.
Their project is largely residential, including townhouses and three towers of 22 stories, 13 stories, and 14 stories. It would include 171,000 square feet of lab space, a four-story parking garage and ground-floor retail and community spaces. The groups also propose to partner with the Museum of African American History to create a Roxbury Museum at the former Whittier Street Health Center building. (The HYM-led bid involves tearing down the building.)
The Tishman Speyer project would include job training led by the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and set aside $50,000 for a housing fund aimed at helping existing Roxbury residents with increased tax payments or deferred home maintenance.
In building a team for the project, Ruggles partner Richard Taylor said the developers prioritized broad experience, strong financial and management capacity, and a proven commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Wealth creation in the neighborhood is imperative, he stressed, as well as giving opportunity to small local retailers and businesses, such as the Frugal Bookstore, Boston While Black, and The Collier Connection.
“By marrying the local businesses ... in addition to lab training, and in addition to affordable housing, plus the unprecedented non-displacement fund, I think we have something here that hasn’t been on the table before,” Taylor said. “This is the crown jewel site that must represent economic integration and community benefits. It has to get done right here.”
The other group vying to develop P3 is a joint venture partnership between The HYM Investment Group and My City at Peace, a real estate business formed by Rev. Jeffrey Brown.
Tom O’Brien, managing partner of Boston-based HYM, said he’s been working on his bid for P3 essentially since October 2019, when the BPDA pulled the plug on Tremont Crossing.
O’Brien and Brown have also teamed up with a number of other Black-owned businesses for the bid, and envision a 1.2 million-plus-square-foot complex spread among five main buildings, along with a village green area.
“We really want to make a destination not just for people who live and work here, but also for the neighborhood around it,” said Greg Minott, managing principal at DREAM Collaborative, an architectural firm working on the project.
Two of those buildings, together consisting of nearly 700,000 square feet, would primarily consist of labs and other life science space, with some spots at the ground level for shops and restaurants.
A third building would be focused on apartments, with 164 affordable units and 118 market rate ones. That building would also include two floors with more than 30,000 square feet set aside for King Boston, a nonprofit venture established through The Boston Foundation to honor the formative time that Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King spent in Boston. King Boston, which Brown co-chairs, has commissioned a memorial, called The Embrace, to the Kings that will be built on Boston Common. The Roxbury location, dubbed the “Embrace Center,” would feature a museum, a function space, and a home to King Boston’s economic justice research and policy work.
The other two buildings would consist of condos, totaling 144 income-restricted units and another 40 market-rate ones. O’Brien said buyers would eventually be able to sell these affordable units at market prices after a waiting period, possibly 15 years, as a way to help them build wealth.
O’Brien said he expects the entire project would cost about $1.5 billion. He expects to finance it with help from backers that have worked with HYM on its other major projects, namely the Suffolk Downs and Bulfinch Crossing redevelopments.
He said some profits from the lab construction would help underwrite the affordable housing costs.
“Ten years ago, nobody thought the life science business would happen in the Seaport,” O’Brien said. “Five years ago, nobody thought the life science business would happen in Union Square in Somerville. …Why not Roxbury?”
The BPDA did not give a timeline, but expects community feedback to guide the selection of the two proposals.
Catherine Carlock can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bycathcarlock. Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.