Edward J. Tutunjian, the controversial owner of Boston Cab, has sold his company’s properties in the Fenway to a development team for around $50 million.
The deal, disclosed Tuesday, heralds the end of an era for the city’s onetime “Taxi King,” whose domain has been much diminished by a federal conviction related to exploitative labor practices and by the advent of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. It also signals the start of a process that is likely to result in a major new residential project in the booming neighborhood.
Local developer Jay Doherty of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes spearheaded the purchase, but a Los Angeles real estate investment firm, CIM Group, provided the bulk of the financing and is now the majority owner of the land — several parcels on Kilmarnock Street totaling just over two acres. The properties are currently occupied by a large garage complex used by Boston Cab, plus two restaurants and a convenience store.
For now, the taxi company will continue operating on the site as a tenant of the developers. But within about two years, Doherty said, Boston Cab and the other businesses must either close down or move, clearing the way for demolition of the garage and construction of a residential development.
Tutunjian’s business “has to be relocated, and he’s fully aware of that,” Doherty said. “But he’ll have time to talk to his family and figure out what the plan is.”
In the meantime, the developer added, “we will be sitting down with this neighborhood before we even really conceive of the project or put pencil to paper, and listen to them about what they want.”
An attorney for Tutunjian declined to comment, saying the deal was subject to a confidentiality agreement.
In a statement, CIM said it financed the deal because of the site’s proximity to universities, public transit, and various cultural institutions. An executive for the firm added that CIM takes a “community-focused approach to urban investing.”
The negotiations that ultimately led to the purchase began last spring and were often contentious. Last fall, Doherty sued Tutunjian for allegedly reneging on an earlier agreement that would have seen the developer acquire Tutunjian’s 362 taxi medallions and the Boston Cab business, in addition to the real estate.
The sides have since agreed to dismiss the case, after the cab boss apparently decided to sell the land but maintain control of his crumbling taxi empire.
That simplified the terms — Tutunjian’s medallions were held by dozens of separate paper corporations — and meant Doherty no longer had to recruit a partner or a buyer from the transportation industry to operate Boston Cab.
“This one was a bit of a trial,” Doherty acknowledged, “but in the end we’re very happy. We’ve obviously made a major purchase, and the deal gives the cab company resources to do whatever the family wants to do and it allows us to do what we do best, which is the real estate end of things.”
In 2016, a federal judge sentenced Tutunjian to 18 months in a halfway house and fined him $2 million after he pleaded guilty to payroll tax evasion, failing to pay overtime to employees, hiring illegal immigrants, and helping workers win federal housing subsidies for which they were not qualified.
The charges stemmed from a Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigation published in 2013, which reported that Tutunjian and his managers exploited Boston Cab’s largely immigrant workforce by demanding petty bribes in exchange for shifts and garnishing their pay to make up for supposed fare shortfalls.
Two months after the publication of the series, IRS agents raided Boston Cab’s Fenway headquarters and seized financial records.
But Doherty said in his lawsuit that Tutunjian pursued the property sale not because of his legal troubles, but because of public officials’ failure to crack down on ride-hailing firms that didn’t obey hackney regulations.
Indeed, the popularity of Uber and Lyft has caused the value of taxi medallions to plummet, from nearly $700,000 earlier this decade to well below $100,000 by the end of 2016. A number of owners have even said that no one will buy their medallion — at any price.
Doherty, meanwhile, has already held preliminary conversations with neighborhood groups, whose support he will need to build on the newly purchased Fenway land.
Kathleen Brill, an attorney who helps lead the Fenway Civic Association, said her group will need to review more detailed plans before passing judgment. But she suggested residents would probably support a non-luxury residential project of modest height on the site, as called for by a recent city zoning plan that also created a corridor of high-rises along nearby Boylston Street.
“The uses he’s talked about in general terms seem appropriate for the neighborhood,” Brill said.
“The plan envisions that area as a lower-rise section that preserves the residential character and limited mixed-use character of the neighborhood. Most developments that have come online followed that plan, and it’s worked out great.”