Another beloved South Boston institution could soon have a date with a backhoe.
The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm is putting Marian Manor, a massive nursing home and rehab complex on a prime location in the heart of Southie, on the market this week. The Carmelites hope to use the proceeds to pay for a smaller, more modern facility, either on the site as part of a condo or apartment project, or nearby, possibly through a land swap.
The sprawling, seven-building complex, built on the former Carney Hospital campus in the 1950s, is now more than a half-century old. With developers combing over every postage stamp-sized lot in Southie, the Carmelites believe that the time is right to seek a deal for the site, some 2 acres in size. The leadership began informing Marian Manor’s 312 employees of the change Monday.
“We want a better future than a building that has leaks and machinery that’s falling apart,” said Mother M. Mark Louis Randall, prioress general for the Germantown, N.Y.-based Catholic order. “Something needs to be done with the physical plant. . . We want to care for our residents in a better place.”
Toward that end, the Carmelites have hired brokerage Colliers International to market Marian Manor, which stretches from busy Dorchester Street up the hill to Thomas Park, and two nearby parking lots to potential developers. Colliers’ marketing brochure bills the property as “an unprecedented redevelopment opportunity” in one of “Boston’s most sought-after neighborhoods.” The site is just steps from several MBTA bus stops and near the Red Line.
Tom Hynes, chief executive of Colliers’ Boston office, said he expects strong interest, despite the request to accommodate the Carmelites as part of the deal.
“It’s a pretty prominent site . . . right smack in a great part of the city,” Hynes said. “We hope to come up with a solution that works for the Carmelites, works for the city, and works for South Boston.”
This isn’t the first time the Carmelites have tried to redevelop the site. The order had ambitious plans for a modern nursing facility and apartment complex in Quincy, near the Granite Links Golf Course, more than a decade ago, but scuttled them during the recession. At the time, a number of South Boston residents were concerned that the people who had cared for their parents, grandparents, and neighbors were about to leave the neighborhood.
Mother Randall said this time, the Carmelites won’t be looking to exit the city. Her preference is to keep Marian Manor at the property, in a scaled-down form, alongside a small convent for the nuns who would remain. But she said the Carmelites are open to moving to a different location in South Boston or Dorchester.
“We’re an urban facility,” she said. “We don’t want to move to the suburbs.” The Carmelites aren’t the only religious order that has turned to development to keep a foothold in South Boston. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur recently struck a deal with a developer that would ensure that the Notre Dame Education Center remains on Old Colony Avenue, as part of a new and bigger building with apartments upstairs.
The number of patients and residents at the 226-bed Marian Manor has dwindled over the years. But the facility is still important in the community, with an average occupancy rate of 93 percent. Of the beds, 27 are for short-term rehab patients recovering from illnesses or injuries, while the rest are for nursing home residents.
Ed Flynn, a city councilor who lives near Marian Manor, said he wants to learn more from the Carmelites about their plans, and hopes they will remain in South Boston.
“It would be a tremendous loss for our neighborhood if they left,” Flynn said.
But he also warned that development at the site, which is adjacent to several smaller residential properties, could pose parking and traffic challenges.
‘There’s an incredible connection to this institution in the South Boston community.’
It’s unclear how much of the nearly 200,000-square-foot complex would remain intact when the property is redeveloped.
“It could be more economical to tear it down,” said Ed Merritt, executive vice president at East Boston Savings Bank. “We’ve seen a lot of developments in South Boston go that way.”
Michael Vaughan, a development consultant who lives in South Boston, fondly remembers visiting Marian Manor during his grandfather’s final days in the mid-1990s. Many other residents in the neighborhood have similar memories.
“There’s an incredible connection to this institution in the South Boston community. Generations of seniors have gone there to be treated with dignity, my grandfather being one of them,” Vaughn said. “It needs to be redeveloped in a thoughtful way that keeps that critical mission that we’re all attached to in the community. To do this, you have to embrace the mission and embrace the history of what’s happened there.”Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.