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City looks to restart search to develop long-vacant Roxbury site

A view of Parcel P-3 in Roxbury.Chuck Redmon/P-3 Partners LLC/P-3 Partners LLC

It sure seemed like cause for celebration when, after years of planning, Boston officials in the spring gave final approval for a massive mixed-use project on a prominent thoroughfare in Roxbury. Decades of inaction would finally give way to construction.

Put away those hard hats, everyone. Director Brian Golden and his colleagues at the Boston Planning & Development Agency won’t be breaking out the shovels for that long-awaited groundbreaking after all.

Here we go again. Roxbury just can’t seem to shake the Curse of Parcel P-3.

On Thursday, Golden’s agency opted not to renew the development designation for the team behind the project, dubbed Tremont Crossing. The reason? Golden says the group lost $30 million in financing and could not point to another source of funding.

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After more than 25 extensions over the course of eight years, it’s time, Golden says, to start all over again.

Boston is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom. The area around Roxbury’s Dudley Square, long overlooked by developers, seems to be finally reaping the benefits. Golden says he wants to make sure his agency can capitalize on this 7.5-acre, city-owned site, across from police headquarters and a short walk from the Ruggles station.

Golden says he expects to start a new round of bidding next year, incorporating the parameters from a recently completed Dudley Square planning study as well as community feedback into the new request for proposals.

The BPDA may have given up on the development team — a group known as P-3 Partners led by Feldco Development. But the development team apparently hasn’t given up on the BPDA.

P-3 Partners issued a brief statement, saying it is confident of finding a new financial backer by the BPDA’s next meeting — Nov. 14 — even though its designation will have officially expired on Oct. 31. The group emphasizes the “substantial consensus building” that has already taken place to get this far in the Roxbury neighborhood. Translation: You would be crazy to jettison all that work at this late stage.

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Good luck finding a vacant parcel anywhere in Boston with such a tortured legacy. The property fell under city ownership in the 1960s during the urban renewal craze. The doomed Southwest Expressway project tied it up for much of the 1970s. Plans for a shopping mall and health center were considered in the 1990s. A new Whittier Street Health Center eventually did open there, in 2012, thanks in part to federal stimulus funds. So maybe the Curse isn’t so ironclad.

But the property became a political football of sorts. Former mayor Tom Menino tried to jawbone Partners HealthCare into consolidating its offices there at one point. (Partners went to Somerville.) Then former governor Deval Patrick tried to move the state Department of Transportation’s offices there. (MassDOT ended up staying put, at 10 Park Plaza.) Speaking of football, P-3 was once eyed for a new arena to house the Kraft Group’s soccer team, the New England Revolution. (The Revs still share Gillette Stadium with their corporate sibling, the Patriots, much to soccer fans’ dismay.)

All the while, city officials stuck with P-3 Partners, for an eight-year-plus stretch that is apparently coming to an end. The developer’s vision calls for a massive complex of 1.7 million square feet that includes two towers, with 700-plus apartments, 405,000 square feet of retail, fitness and entertainment spaces, and 108,000 square feet of offices. Finally, a new home for the National Center of Afro-American Artists museum, not to mention anchor tenant BJ’s Wholesale Club.

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There have been trials along the way: addressing concerns over the potential for student dorms there, for example, or dealing with a major sewer pipe that cuts across the site.

But Golden sure sounded optimistic in April after Georgia-based Landmark Properties agreed to invest as an equity partner.

Did it all seem too good to be true? Golden says as much now: Long-term lease negotiations with P-3 Partners have consumed much of the agency’s time every week, over many months.  But without proper financing, Golden says it makes no sense to continue.

By this point, you might think nearly every possible use has already been floated for this weed-choked spot along Tremont Street. But the Boston Planning & Development Agency is betting that new creative ideas will emerge, something that will finally end the Curse.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.