Developer sees next step in growth in South End
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First came the Whole Foods. Then some 400 apartments and condos.
Now it's time to fill out the neighborhood.
National Development is taking the next step to remake a scruffy corner of the South End into one of the city's prime new residential districts, announcing that it has a number of stores and restaurants that will soon move into its Ink Block development on Harrison Avenue.
"Not so long ago, nobody wanted to walk down Harrison," said Ted Tye, National Development managing partner. "We're trying to create energy."
This same challenge is emerging in several sections of Boston — including the Seaport District and the far end of Allston — that are experiencing a rush of development. Typically housing or office space is the first to be built, with stores, restaurants, and other retailers following. While apartments in many of these places are renting fast, filling the storefronts on the street requires a delicate balance and takes a little longer.
At Ink Block, for example, Tye said his company wanted a mix of retailers that meet the needs of hundreds of new residents, while also giving outsiders a reason to visit.
"A neighborhood isn't just residential. It's residential and retail," Tye said. "Very quickly, we want people to think about Harrison the way they think about Tremont Street."
The first retail to open at Ink Block, a Whole Foods Market, certainly helped, said Gustavo Quiroga, director of place-making at retail consulting firm Graffito SP, which has done similar retail makeovers in the Boston area but not at Ink Block. Another big boost, Quiroga said, will come this spring when the popular outdoor South End Open Markets relocates across Harrison Avenue from Ink Block.
"It's almost the definition of place-making," he said. "That's a great strategy for them to help bring new people to that part of the neighborhood, to put it on their map of the city."
Next will come a strip of restaurants on Harrison Avenue. They include salad chain Sweetgreen; an outpost of Asian-fusion group Fuji; Bar Mezzana, a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant being launched by alumni of Barbara Lynch's restaurant group; and a cocktail bar from Dropkick Murphys guitarist Ken Casey. Rounding out the block are a yoga studio and a Turnstyle Cycle studio, and a bank/coffee shop from Capital One with Peet's Coffee.
All of them, per their deal with Ink Block, will have outdoor seating on a well-lit, extra-wide sidewalk out front. Most will have extended hours.
The neighborhood around Ink Block is fast transforming. Across Harrison Avenue, development firm UDR has begun work on a 577-unit apartment complex with street-level retail. Down the street, Related Beal is planning to turn the former Quinzani's Bakery into housing with ground floor retail as well. A new office building is in the works on that stretch of Harrison, too, with significant upgrades planned at street level.
Tying all that together to create an interesting mix of businesses will require careful planning, Quiroga said. It will also require designing spaces, for example, that don't all feel — and cost — the same. Quiroga added that a little imagination never hurts. His firm is working with Harvard University on a stretch of Western Avenue in Allston, where it has commissioned murals and hosted pop-up restaurants to help both retailers and their potential customers think about what the place could be.
"Some of this is just experimentation," he said.
When it's done, though, the neighborhood will have a bustle and identity of its own — one that will be determined much more by its street life than by the new buildings above.
"You brand your project by your retailers," Tye said. "That's what we want to do here."