Developers interested in Boston’s newest waterfront property to hit the market might want to forget about building high-end condos or fancy restaurants. Filleting fish? Now, that’s something that could be useful.
This week, the Massachusetts Port Authority began seeking bids for 23 acres it controls at the edge of the South Boston Waterfront, overlooking Boston Harbor.
But there is one major stipulation: The land needs to be devoted to maritime industrial uses, based on a state waterfront designation.
The property, known as the Massport Marine Terminal, has been largely vacant for years. That’s primarily due to difficulties facing a firm that has had development rights for the site, prime real estate that Massport leases long term in the city-controlled Boston Marine Industrial Park.
Massport officials said they resolved that saga by carving out 6.8 acres for the firm, an affiliate of Millennium Partners. The remainder of the land, spread among five parcels, is up for grabs.
“We’re hoping that we’ll get something that’s a real asset for the maritime district and also an asset for the whole city,” said Massport’s chief executive, Thomas Glynn.
The property drew attention last year when it was eyed as a potential home for the food wholesalers at Widett Circle, an industrial area sandwiched between South Boston and the Southeast Expressway. At the time, organizers for Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid were considering Widett Circle for a stadium. Boston’s bid is dead now, of course, but wholesalers at the New Boston Food Market remain open to a move.
They may have to join a line. A dozen potential bidders formally expressed interest in the waterfront site last fall, even with the maritime restriction. They included major local developers such as Tishman Speyer, National Development and Samuels & Associates, and Redgate. Industrial users such as seafood companies also expressed interest.
With one piece removed for the Millennium project, however, not all of the parcels are contiguous. Massport could select more than one proposal and is open to developers that are interested in building on only one section — or on as many as all five. Bids are due by April 14, and a decision would be made by mid-summer.
Millennium Partners principal Joe Larkin confirmed that Cargo Ventures, a Millennium affiliate, has agreed to focus its development work on the 6.8-acre section: “We’re happy with our ability to concentrate our efforts on this one site.”
Larkin declined to detail what is planned there, although Massport officials expect a fish processor, Stavis Seafoods, to be a major tenant.
Stavis wants to consolidate its three South Boston operations in a new complex at the site, one that could be 75,000 to 100,000 square feet in size, chief executive Richard Stavis said. The facility would include offices and fish processing, along with distribution operations. About 100 people would work there, and it could open by sometime in 2018. Stavis said he had not received confirmation that a deal between Massport and Millennium has been reached, but he was optimistic.
“It’s tremendously inefficient, shuttling back and forth between all these locations,” Stavis said. “It’s been our goal for a number of years to put everything under one roof.”
If the Widett wholesalers opt to make a play for the remaining property, they would likely do so through a developer or another intermediary. Michael Vaughan, a consultant for the wholesalers, said he expects the New Boston Food Market cooperative to discuss the opportunity this week.
The cooperative, consisting of more than 20 businesses employing about 900 people, currently uses 18.5 acres at Widett Circle. The group isn’t necessarily looking to move, he said, but recognizes the benefits of new construction with modern systems.
“This is a very unique opportunity and I think it’s one we have to give serious consideration to,” Vaughan said. “It’s a great site. It has great access. It rivals their current location. There are not a lot or any sites that are quite like it, [with] access to the airport and the interstate.”
Many Widett Circle wholesalers are in the seafood industry, but others have no maritime connections.
Massport officials deliberately structured the bidding to allow for complementary uses on the site, but noted that developers seeking a nonmaritime industrial component would need permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There could be another way for the meatpackers to relocate there. The Boston Redevelopment Authority is in the midst of updating rules for the industrial park. One potential change that’s gaining traction: allowing any goods shipped through Logan Airport to count as a marine industrial use.
Rich McGuinness, a waterfront planner with the BRA, said state environmental officials have reacted positively to the suggestion so far. He said allowing air freight to count as a “marine industrial” use should accommodate the Widett Circle wholesalers, such as meatpackers, that aren’t in the seafood business.
Any development on the Massport parcels could face other requirements. They include a stipulation that space for a potential extension of a freight railroad track, known as Track 61, should be preserved, along with the North Jetty ship berth. And Massport wants access to part of the site to continue its current uses there, such as parking for the nearby cruise ship terminal.