For decades, Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury has been no more than a high-traffic passageway to other parts of Boston.
But under new plans approved by Boston regulators, Melnea Cass is due for a dramatic change that will result in new shops and restaurants, a supermarket, a hotel, and dozens of homes.
Two teams of developers have been given the green light by City Hall to build a mixed-use community on vacant land on both sides of the boulevard between Washington Street and Shawmut Avenue. Their projects will form a new gateway to Dudley Square, which in recent years has also attracted a burst of redevelopment activity.
"We are ecstatic that we're starting to see some forward movement on these vacant parcels," said Darnell Williams, chairman of a Roxbury planning committee that has spent years trying to spur an economic revitalization in the area. "We want it to be comparable to the retail and housing options in the other parts of Boston."
The two sites to be redeveloped, known as parcels 9 and 10, have been largely vacant since the 1960s, when they were cleared for a planned extension of Interstate 95 that was never built.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority initiated a process to redevelop them several years ago and earlier this month awarded building rights to Urbanica Design + Development and Madison-Tropical LLC, a partnership of Madison Park Development Corp. and the Tropical Foods supermarket.
Urbanica will build a $63 million complex on parcel 9 that will include a 150-room hotel, a two-story commercial and community building, and a five-story residential and retail structure.
The hotel will sit adjacent to Ramsey Park, and it will have ground-floor community spaces that link to the park's baseball fields.
The project will include 52 homes, with eight to be designated affordable. An executive with Urbanica said the firm wants to open at least one restaurant as well as a music club on the 1.3-acre property.
"The neighborhood needs activities that strengthen the culture that's already there," said Kamran Zahedi, principal at Urbanica. "We're not trying to bring the South End to Roxbury. Roxbury is going to take its own shape based on its landscape and demography."
He said the firm hopes to begin construction in spring 2014.
Across the street at parcel 10, Madison-Tropical plans to anchor its development with a new, much larger supermarket that will replace the current Tropical Foods store next door. The existing market, meanwhile, will be renovated into a retail and residential complex that will include 66 homes. Additional development includes a striking retail, office, and residential building on the corner of Melnea Cass and Washington. Construction is slated to begin fall, 2013.
"This is an opportunity to make a tremendous change in Lower Roxbury and Dudley Square," said Russell Tanner, director of real estate for Madison Park Development Corp. "The project will increase the area's economic vitality with new retail options and jobs, and it will also improve access to healthy foods."
Several other developments are also beginning to move forward in the neighborhood, including the long-vacant Ferdinand building in Dudley that will become a municipal office complex for the Boston School Department. That project will also feature public parks, several new retail shops, and community space for art exhibits and other events.
Nearby on Tremont Street, a team of developers has filed plans to build another large mixed-use project across from the Boston Police Headquarters.
The project by Elma Lewis Partners and Feldco Development Corp. would include a museum featuring African-American artists, 240 apartments, offices, boutiques and restaurants, and several large retail stores.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston said he is thrilled to see the developments on Melnea Cass feeding off the energy in Dudley Square.
"There's a chemistry going on in Dudley and I think it's long overdue," Menino said. "People there have wanted more housing and shopping options, and I think we'll finally be able to give it to them."
Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.