In the push to spread the wealth of Boston’s booming development industry far wider into disadvantaged communities, this could be a game changer.
All eyes should be on a city-owned 7.7-acre parcel in Roxbury known as P3. If fully developed, it has the potential to dwarf the benefits from the diversity effort at the new Omni hotel in the Seaport District. The massive hotel was built on land owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority, which used a novel approach to make sure work was awarded to a more diverse group of builders and subcontractors than has been the norm in Boston.
On the Roxbury site, two teams — HYM Investment Group/My City at Peace, and Tishman Speyer/Ruggles Progressive Partners — recently submitted bids to develop the long-dormant site along Tremont Street. Each proposes to spend more than $1 billion to build a mix of labs, housing, and civic space. That’s more than twice the cost of the Omni hotel.
The so-called Massport model ― which makes diversity a major factor in determining development rights on the agency’s property holdings ― has created wealth and opportunities for people of color, many of whom have used the experience to win other contracts. Since 2018, the Boston Planning & Development Agency has followed Massport’s cue for projects on 16 city-owned parcels. But with P3, Boston has a chance to take the model a big step further and show that such inclusivity on building projects can help to transform lower-income neighborhoods by creating wealth and opportunities for residents, not just the executives of a few companies.
What both P3 teams are pitching is extraordinary. Beyond bringing lab space to Roxbury, they envision forming partnerships with nearby Roxbury Community College, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and Madison Park High School to train students for life science jobs. Both teams also plan a significant amount of affordable homes that can be purchased, as well as rental housing.
“That is something we have pushed for,” said Norm Stembridge, cochair of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee. “People have seen this as an opportunity to move the community forward.”
Like some other large projects in Boston, this one has a public space component. But unlike most, the plans for P3 feel like they have been carefully thought out so they accomplish more than just meeting a requirement. The HYM/My City at Peace team wants to house King Boston, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring the formative time that Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King spent in Boston. The “Embrace Center,” as they call it, would feature a museum, function space, and a home for King Boston’s economic justice research and policy work.
Tishman/Ruggles is partnering with the Museum of African American History to create a Roxbury Museum. The team also proposes to set aside space for pop-up businesses, as well as music and play areas for families.
The city has been trying to develop P3 for more than two decades, with plenty of false starts over the years. Everything from a BJ’s Wholesale Club to a soccer stadium for the New England Revolution to a state transportation headquarters has been considered.
At one point, the BPDA awarded the development rights to Feldco Development, but took them away in 2019 after the company struggled to secure financing. Meanwhile, the neighborhood had grown increasingly unhappy with the various proposals that came along over the years. They wanted a project that could produce a virtuous economic circle, one that creates good-paying jobs and careers, and puts people on the path to homeownership and generational wealth.
The BPDA will hold a series of community meetings in the coming months to review the bids. A decision could come by the fall.
The P3 process has also shone a spotlight on how development in Boston doesn’t have to be so white.
A who’s who of the Black business community have lined up to participate. Some have been working on real estate projects for years (Richard Taylor, Kevin Bynoe, JocCole “JC” Burton, Greg Minott, Herby Duverné, Darryl Settles, Kai Grant), while others are relatively new to the game (the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Manikka Bowman, Chanda Smart, Ricardo Pierre-Louis, Sheena Collier).
For many, it represents a watershed moment for their business.
Minott, managing principal at Boston architectural firm DREAM Collaborative, said he has worked on plenty of major projects as a subcontractor, but this is the first time his firm will take the lead on designing the master plan.
A member of the HYM/My City At Peace team, Minott said that if awarded the bid, his company would double in size by by adding two dozen jobs. That’s great, but why did it take so long for a firm that has been around for 14 years to be the lead on a massive project?
“It’s always been a mystery to us,” Minott said. “We have the expertise and talented team. We are just as qualified and in some cases more qualified. Why not? We have not been invited to do it.”
Just as important is making sure that opportunities like these don’t always go to the same people of color. Doing so means the diverse pipeline can grow bigger.
Bowman launched her development firm, HarveyReed, in 2021, but Tishman managing director Jessica Hughes became familiar with Bowman when she was an executive at the Urban Land Institute.
“She knew I was competent and I was able to roll up my sleeves,” said Bowman. “She knew the value of investing in a woman and a Black woman launching a development firm.”
Bowman’s role is to oversee a fund that addresses displacement, which is one of the community’s biggest concerns, as new development usually drives up property values and pushes out longtime residents. Tishman/Ruggles proposes seeding the fund with $250,000 and growing it to $1 million to help low-to-moderate income Roxbury homeowners remain in their homes by offsetting tax increases and paying for maintenance.
For Ricardo Pierre-Louis, P3 represents a chance to realize a dream: owning a parking garage. As a college student, he worked as a valet parking cars on the weekends and then started his own company, Privé Parking. He met HYM managing partner Tom O’Brien a few years ago with the goal of getting into the development business.
The HYM/My City At Peace bid contains two garages with a total of 500 spaces. Privé would manage them and hold an equity stake in both properties.
“When you own something, now you’re in a different position,” said Pierre-Louis.
For another member of the HYM/My City at Peace team, working on P3 is a kind of homecoming. Smart, chief executive of OnyxGroup Development & Brokerage, spent part of her childhood a couple of blocks from the site. Her great-grandmother lived in Roxse Homes public housing on Tremont Street.
“It’s extremely exciting for us . . . how many people can say I grew up across the street and I have a part in this development?” said Smart.
Her great-grandmother passed away close to three decades ago. But if Smart is part of the winning P3 bid, she knows what she would have said: “I knew you could do it.”
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.