Hopes are high for new development in Roslindale
The hulking power substation stands vacant at the edge of Roslindale Square, a bleak remnant of the network that powered trolley cars in Boston more than a century ago.
Out of use for 40 years, the brick building has slowly deteriorated into an eyesore that belies both its proud history and prime spot overlooking an active business district.
Now, after years of false starts, the city-owned substation is poised for a dramatic transformation: a mixed-use complex with dozens of apartments, restaurants, and a produce market.
The project, led by local nonprofits and a Rhode Island developer, involves restoring the original details of the 1911 building, designed by the prominent Boston architect Robert S. Peabody, and constructing about 40 apartments on an adjacent lot.
The substation itself will house a restaurant, small cafe, and the produce market. Pending city approvals, the developers hope to begin construction next fall.
“This is going to completely change the way people see that corner,” said Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of Historic Boston Inc., one of the nonprofits leading the project. “It’s an exciting economic opportunity for this building.”
The project will refurbish the building’s massive arched windows — many of which were bricked over years ago — and create a stronger visual connection to Adams Park at the center of Roslindale Village. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a longtime supporter of the substation’s revitalization, said the effort will save a key piece of Boston’s history and bring the dilapidated building “back to active life in the community.”
The substation was one of several in Boston neighborhoods that supported the old streetcar network that led to a period of rapid growth in the city.
Historic Boston is working on the project with Roslindale Village Main Street. Those groups received a city designation to redevelop the property in 2010, and more recently struck up a partnership with Peregrine Group, a development firm based in Rhode Island.
Plans for the mixed-use complex took shape earlier this year when the owners of F.J. Higgins Funeral Home decided to sell their property to the new development team, freeing up additional land for the apartments.
Developers said the apartments will help to fund the restoration of the substation, a $5.2 million effort whose cost has stymied several prior redevelopment efforts. Beverly Gallo, a principal at Peregrine Group, said the team intends to work on both projects simultaneously, so the apartments and revitalized substation open around the same time.
About 38 parking spaces will be included in the final project, most of which will be for the apartments, a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units.
The developers are planning to hold a community meeting in January to discuss their plans. “This is not a baked deal,” said Steven Gag, president of Roslindale Village Main Street. “We’re open to what people have to say about it.”
While he expects to hear concerns about traffic and parking, Gag said redeveloping the substation will advance the broader goal of making Roslindale a livelier neighborhood. And for the first time in years, Gag said, he is confident the project has the financial strength to get done.
“This will really be an anchor building for the southern part of the village,” Gag said. “It will create a vibrant place that people will want to be around.”