Developer hopes to tap into Dorchester’s Port Norfolk
The views from the Venezia restaurant and the adjacent marina are among the best in the city, but for years they’ve only been shared by boaters and guests of the banquet hall.
Now, a South Boston-based developer is hoping to tap into the potential of Dorchester’s Port Norfolk peninsula, with plans to build what would be the first significant commercial development this corner of the city has seen in years.
To build on the old Russo Marine site, though, City Point Capital principal Ryan Sillery will need to ensure that any ensuing traffic doesn’t overwhelm the narrow streets of the adjacent residential neighborhood wedged between the Southeast Expressway and the Neponset River.
Sillery is working with RODE Architects to develop and design a complex that would include an estimated 100 condos, a boutique hotel and restaurant, marina slips, and a home for the boat business, now run by Florida-based MarineMax. The precise sizes of the proposed buildings are still in flux. Sillery said he wants to meet with community members before submitting formal plans to the Boston Planning & Development Agency this summer.
“It’s really a hidden gem, one of the last pieces of privately owned, developable waterfront in Boston,” Sillery said. “We mean to bring the neighborhood in [to work on a design] that fits that peninsula.”
Sillery, an avid fisherman, first noticed the site’s development potential when he bought a Boston Whaler from Russo Marine about eight years ago. He said his firm completed a $10 million deal in January to acquire 7.8 acres on the waterfront that includes the boat-shop property.
This would be the third project in which RODE and City Point Capital have worked together, following two in South Boston: a development across the street from the Broadway T station that features a condo tower and a hotel, and a second condo building on Old Colony Avenue.
The four existing buildings on the Dorchester marina site, currently used for boat sales and storage, would come down. In their place, Sillery would build a 50- to 60-room hotel that would likely have a restaurant on its first floor. He also wants to develop a condo building that offers water and skyline views, and a new structure that can accommodate MarineMax’s boat sales and storage. The 50 or so boat slips would remain at the site although they might be moved slightly. Ideally, Sillery would like to see a small shop for recreational fishermen in the complex as well.
Sillery said his firm bought the land from members of the Bruno family, the owners of Venezia and other commercial structures on that block including the homes of the Boston Winery and the Boston Harbor Distillery. City Point Capital, Sillery said, also has secured the rights to buy the Brunos’ remaining properties there in the future, to potentially develop a sequel of sorts to the current project.
The permitting process for this project could take about a year, and construction could take up to 18 months after that.
Residential developments have been floated in the past for the site, but they’ve floundered largely due to their size and neighbors’ concerns about increased traffic through Port Norfolk.
“There are a number of issues surrounding that site, specifically, how do you get in and how do you get out?” said state representative Dan Hunt, a Dorchester Democrat who represents the neighborhood. “It’s basically cut off from the rest of the city. . . . Any proposal at Russo Marine will need to figure out how to expand egress.”
The closest bus line is nearly a half mile away, on Morrissey Boulevard. The Red Line’s Braintree trains barrel through the neighborhood but do not stop. Sillery suggests that a water taxi route could be established, to take commuters from the neighborhood to downtown Boston.
Kevin Deabler, a principal at RODE, said the firm’s goal for now is to make sure there is the right mix of uses on the property to avoid creating any new traffic problems. He said his team will study existing traffic and listen to any neighborhood concerns, and work with residents and Boston traffic officials to resolve any impacts.
What intrigues Deabler most about the site is the opportunity it provides to draw more people to Dorchester’s waterfront. Deabler said he expects the new buildings would be set back more from the water than the existing ones, so visitors could walk along the shoreline. The development, he said, could easily dovetail with a new state park that opened up nearby on old industrial land next to the Lower Neponset River bike trail.
Deabler said the developer and the architectural firm will plan for sea level rise and storm management issues by strengthening existing seawalls and including green spaces that can slow down stormwater run-off.
The project will be a point of pride for RODE because Deabler and Eric Robinson, the other principal in RODE, are both Dorchester residents.
“I’ve decided to set roots down here and raise the family in Dorchester,” Deabler said. “Just knowing that there’s another place in Dorchester where people can go and enjoy being on the water would probably be what I look forward to the most.”