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Northeastern plans its second high-end dorm for Roxbury

A rendering of the proposed Northeastern University dorm on Columbus Avenue.Matt Formicola

Fresh off opening a big privately operated dormitory on the edge of its campus in Roxbury, Northeastern University is planning another one.

The school has filed plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency for a 26-story, 975-bed dorm and academic building on the corner of Tremont Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard. The move will kick off what will probably be months of city review, with a goal to break ground in 2021.

It would be Northeastern’s second partnership with Texas-based American Campus Communities, a publicly traded student housing developer that built and operates LightView Apartments, the 825-bed Northeastern dorm that opened this fall. And it would be the latest in a growing wave of privately financed dorms in Boston as colleges and universities seek to add housing without overloading their balance sheets.


“On our first project [with ACC], we had a really positive experience,” said Kathy Spiegelman, vice president and chief of campus planning and development at Northeastern. “This allows us to work with a private developer who specializes in this, and allows us to use university funds — student tuition — on other projects we want to do on campus.”

The plans filed with the BPDA call for a 299-foot tower, designed by Elkus Manfredi, on the site of a parking lot near the MBTA’s Ruggles Station. It would have retail and community space on the ground floor, Spiegelman said, with four stories of classroom or university office space run by Northeastern, and 282 dorm rooms — with 975 beds — in the tower above.

Northeastern would lease the land to ACC, which would finance and build the 525,000-square-foot project. The university would then either rent or buy back about 115,000 square feet on the lower floors. The dorm rooms would be open to third-, fourth-, and fifth-year Northeastern students and be subject to university housing rules.


It’s a model similar to what Northeastern and ACC employed when they built LightView, which opened this fall just a few blocks down Columbus Avenue.

Dorm rooms in the $153 million building — which will feature granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and floor-to-ceiling windows — were all spoken for by February, despite concerns that rents there far exceeded those in Northeastern’s typical on-campus housing, not to mention the room and board allowance offered to students on full financial aid. Still, Spiegelman said, the new dorms are often preferable to the housing Northeastern students find off-campus in nearby neighborhoods such as the Fenway and Lower Roxbury.

“The reality is that some of our students, if they can get the convenience of being that close to campus, the privacy, the quality, they’re willing to pay more than they would to be one of three or four people renting an apartment,” she said.

That aligns with a key element of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s housing policy.

Since taking office, he has pushed universities to add on-campus housing — calling for 18,500 additional dorm beds in the city by 2030 — as a way to draw students out of residential neighborhoods and free up three-decker apartments for families.

To bolster that effort, Walsh has encouraged these sort of partnerships between universities and private developers — which are common in other parts of the country — at a level not seen under his predecessor. UMass Boston built its new dorm in a deal with Capstone Development Partners, and several other schools have explored similar partnerships.


Under Walsh, the city has also permitted schools to rent large apartment buildings for short-term use as student housing while dorms are under construction and is considering a proposal by Suffolk University to convert the now-shuttered Ames Hotel into a dorm.

In Northeastern’s case, it will be even more of a direct swap. When the 975-bed dorm opens, the university plans to end master leases on about 800 beds it holds in smaller apartment buildings sprinkled across the Fenway area.

That will free them up to go back into the general housing market — long a priority of neighborhood groups — while enabling Northeastern to offer students more modern housing.

“Those buildings really weren’t built to be dorms,” Spiegelman said. “We’d like to put them back out on the market, and try to pull our students into a new, modern dorm.”

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.