Business & Tech

High interest in Southie housing complex redevelopment

An aerial view of the Mary Ellen McCormack housing development in South Boston.
Boston Globe File Photo
An aerial view of the Mary Ellen McCormack housing development in South Boston.

Developers are lining up for the chance to remake one of Boston’s biggest and best-located public housing complexes.

Five prominent builders filed proposals with the Boston Housing Authority to redevelop the 27-acre Mary Ellen McCormack complex on Old Colony Avenue in South Boston.

It’s the strongest response yet to the authority’s ambitious campaign to get private developers to shoulder the cost of renovating aging public housing, in exchange for building market-rate units on the grounds. Administrator Bill McGonagle attributed the strong response largely to the McCormack’s location — walkable to two Red Line stops and across from Moakley Park and Carson Beach.


“McCormack sits on a valuable piece of real estate and it’s a very viable development location,” said Bill McGonagle. “We’re pleased that we got very confident, credible developers who are interested in it.”

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By contrast, a similar request to rebuild the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain drew only one team of bidders in April; McGonagle said the location of that complex isn’t as ideal as McCormack, and only a limited portion of the grounds was available for redevelopment.

All five bidders for the McCormack job have experience in the affordable housing business. They are: a partnership between Beacon Communities and National Development; Joseph J. Corcoran Co.; Trinity Development; Winn Companies; and a joint venture of Philadelphia-based Pennrose and Hunt Cos., of Texas.

The winning bidder has to replace the 79-year-old complex’s 1,016 units of low-income housing, and will get the right to build market-rate housing — and perhaps commercial space — on the rest of the site. Development plans will need to be approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency and any project would likely be built in phases over a decade.

The authority’s goal is to replace its aging housing stock with very little public money. The first such effort is underway in Charlestown, where a group led by Corcoran won development rights in 2015 with a $1 billion plan to put about 2,100 market-rate housing units among 1,100 low-income apartments at the Bunker Hill development.


That plan is being reviewed by the BPDA, where it’s facing pushback from some Charlestown neighbors concerned about its sheer size and traffic impacts. At least one bidder for McCormack said the Charlestown experience helped persuade them to submit a more modest proposal for the South Boston complex.

“That’s one reason we’re proposing what we’re proposing,” said Matt Zahler, project manager at Trinity Financial, which would refurbish most of the McCormack apartments in existing brick buildings and add new buildings that will include 248 market-rate units. “We think this is just a more straightforward solution.”

Corcoran, though, sees the Charlestown project as a template for what it can do in South Boston. At McCormack, it proposed a similar-sized complex of about 3,000 apartments — one-third low-income, two-thirds market rate — in new five- or six-story buildings. The economic model works, said Joe Corcoran, who’s leading the project.

Winn Companies, another major affordable housing developer in Boston, is pitching a project of similar scale: 3,139 units, with retail space, supermarket, and perhaps a library. Some of the housing would be aimed at middle-income workers, some at senior citizens.

“Our proposal is ambitious but realistic,” said chief executive Gilbert Winn. “We envision a first-in-the-nation, true mixed-income neighborhood.”


Beacon, which is renovating the neighboring Old Colony complex for the BHA, was unable to comment Wednesday. Pennrose, which builds multifamily housing along the East Coast, did not return a message seeking comment. Their proposals were not immediately available.

‘McCormack sits on a valuable piece of real estate and it’s a very viable development location.’

The Housing Authority, with the help of a tenant group, expects to select a developer in the next two or three months, McGonagle said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of market-rate units that Trinity Financial is proposing to build.

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.