New plans for a long-empty parcel on Tremont Street in Roxbury moved a step closer to fruition Monday, with a neighborhood committee voting to recommend a residential, life sciences, and retail campus proposed by developer The HYM Investment Group and community group My City At Peace.
The city-owned lot, known as Parcel P3, stands on 7.7 acres across from the Boston Police Department headquarters and next to Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. It’s been vacant for decades, and plans to put a large retail and residential complex there fell through in 2019. The city launched a new search for development proposals last year, and two teams submitted proposals in March.
HYM and My City at Peace proposed five new buildings with a combined 466 housing units and 700,000 square feet of life sciences lab space, along with a new headquarters for life sciences nonprofit Lab Central Ignite and a museum, gallery, and policy center for King Boston, a program of the Boston Foundation honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. All told, the cost of the 1.2 million-square-foot project could top $1.5 billion.
“The community has been waiting for something beneficial to happen on this parcel for 40 or 50 years,” said Tom O’Brien, managing director of HYM. “We feel now the responsibility to be able to work and deliver on this for the community.”
On Monday, a 15-person Roxbury Strategic Masterplan Oversight Committee said it would recommend the HYM and My City at Peace proposal to the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The project now needs a formal nod from the BPDA before beginning development review.
The second team that initially bid to develop P3 — Tishman Speyer and Ruggles Progressive Partners — had also proposed a mix of housing and life sciences lab space. The team on Friday asked the city to withdraw their bid from consideration, citing shifts in the economy that have made their proposal harder to finance.
“As you are aware, we have seen a broad deterioration in market fundamentals since we submitted our RFP response in March,” wrote Tishman Speyer’s Michelle Adams in an e-mail to the BPDA obtained by The Boston Globe. “While our intent was to put forth a practical, flexible and phased approach to the development, these current economic headwinds have made the project we first envisioned unworkable at this time.”
The two proposals had been discussed for months, and last week a group comprising community members and business owners supported by elected officials said they’d support the HYM/My City at Peace proposal.
At Monday evening’s public meeting, Louis Elisa, a member of the project review committee, said he was troubled more bidders had not shown up.
“What do we say about a site of this nature that we have just one developer coming in?” he said.
Key to the economics of the HYM and My City at Peace proposal is the mix of lucrative lab space and affordable housing.
The developers aim to use profits from a planned 700,000 square feet of lifesciences lab space to help finance affordable housing on the site, with their proposal calling for 308 affordable units (144 for sale and 164 rental), along with 40 market-rate condos and 118 market-rate apartments. Affordable housing developer Madison Park Development Corp. is partnering on the project.
The multiphase project would begin with a 379,000-square-foot life sciences lab, aiming to start construction in spring 2024, the developers said. They’d then seek public funding for a 282-unit building of both affordable and market-rate apartments, followed by a second life sciences lab and then a second round of public funding prior to starting construction on the 184 condos.
“Our entire approach to the project was devised to create the greatest number of the most deeply affordable units as possible,” the development team wrote in their bid, adding that the “land value generated by the life sciences buildings” would “create a cross-subsidy that will supplement public funding sources.”
But the biotech lab market, long a darling of Greater Boston’s commercial real estate industry, has seen some slowdown in demand lately, and this part of Roxbury has seen little life sciences development.
O’Brien acknowledged some of the uncertainty — but also touted the strengths of the P3 site. It’s located less than a mile from the pharma-dense Longwood Medical Area and a stone’s throw from the MBTA Ruggles Orange Line Station, and biotech companies have demonstrated an increasing willingness to locate outside the core of Cambridge’s Kendall Square, he said.
“The characteristics of this site are every bit as good as any other life science site that exists in eastern Massachusetts,” said O’Brien, whose firm is also lead developer behind massive projects at both the Government Center Garage and Suffolk Downs.
The full buildout of a five-building campus at Parcel P3 is expected to take through spring 2029.
Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report.