Those stodgy old military buildings in Boston’s marine industrial park could soon get a flashy new neighbor.
While tenants come and go, the look of what’s now called the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in South Boston hasn’t changed much over the decades. Not yet.
The redevelopment of a dilapidated three-story building at 24 Drydock Ave. sets the stage for a new chapter: Well-heeled newcomers in upper-floor offices and labs subsidizing ground-floor industrial tenants, protecting them amid the waterfront’s real estate boom.
Or at least that’s the theory, as spelled out in a new master plan for the 191-acre, city-owned industrial park.
Yes, it’s a tricky balance. But with the many underused sites there, city officials are ready to try something new.
The master plan remains subject to a slow-moving state review. In the meantime, the Boston Planning & Development Agency is essentially using 24 Drydock as a test case. The agency just received seven bids for the 30,000-square-foot building, currently part of Boston Ship Repair’s long-term lease with the city. The agency wants the project to include new offices for Boston Ship, and for the new lease revenue to help with crucial upgrades of the company’s massive dry dock next door.
The bids vary in size and scope. Some propose to build as high as seven stories, while tripling or quadrupling the floor space. Proposed uses include offices, labs, and makerspace. The common denominator? The modern, sleek structures in renderings look like nothing else in the park.
Some of these bids come from familiar Boston real estate power brokers. Most notable among them is Jamestown, the landlord that converted the old Boston Design Center and the adjacent Bronstein building into the buzzy Innovation and Design Building, on the other side of Drydock Avenue.
The Jamestown campus across the street, populated with the likes of America’s Test Kitchen and Reebok, has proven that the place can attract employers of white-collar office workers. In fact, many prefer the park’s gritty atmosphere to the nearby Seaport’s nondescript, glass-enclosed wonderland.
For Boston Ship Repair, this project could be crucial to staying on the waterfront for the long haul. By extension, for Boston, that means keeping one of the East Coast’s largest operating dry docks intact.
Ed Snyder, chief executive of parent company Northeast Ship Repair, says the 24 Drydock building has not been used in recent years because of its deteriorating condition. He says property improvements are needed to remain competitive with rivals. For example, Boston Ship often sets up diesel generators to provide enough electricity for ships in the dock, adding at least $1 million to the cost of each job.
Losing Boston Ship would be a big blow for the park — symbolically and for the workers. Snyder says the company typically works on three or four ships a year there, and each is docked for up to four months at a stretch. A ship’s arrival often brings with it nearly 100 union jobs, 150 or so workers employed by subcontractors, and additional government employees.
City officials are working on landing federal and state funds for the electrical upgrade. But the bigger subsidy could come from the private sector, through a successful redevelopment of 24 Drydock.
The BPDA will work with Boston Ship Repair to pick a winner in the coming months. The financial offer will pay a big role; compatibility with the park’s master plan will also be important. State approval of that plan will be needed, too.
If successful, city officials could craft a new model for the working waterfront, one that preserves the park’s marine industrial mission while helping open it up to a new generation of workers.Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.