Walsh offers space for startups in Dudley Square

Mayor Martin J. Walsh plans to set aside space for business startups in Dudley Square’s Ferdinand Building after a $120 million renovation transforms the dilapidated furniture store into the headquarters for the Boston public schools.

The city will designate 3,500 to 4,000 square feet as an incubator where businesses can take root once construction is completed next year.

The renovated building will be 214,000 square feet and include six retail stores on the ground floor. Startup space will occupy less than 2 percent of the building, but the goal is to plant seeds that could spread in the neighborhood.


“Hopefully, this will spark other startups in the Dudley Square community,” Walsh said Monday evening in an interview.

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The mayor is expected to formally announce the plan in a speech Tuesday morning before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at the Westin Copley Place hotel.

The speech will sound a familiar note from Walsh, an anthem included in previous speeches: “Boston is open for business.”

Walsh said he also plans to announce creation of a city “zoning czar,” who will take a comprehensive look at Boston’s building codes and other regulations.

Until now, city zoning regulations have been created by a patchwork of commissions and other piecemeal efforts, Walsh said.


The new administration also plans to hire a chief digital officer who will upgrade Boston’s website and work with the city’s cable television station and social media effort.

The chief digital officer will focus on the way the city communicates with its residents and the world beyond.

Walsh said he got the idea from Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who appointed that city’s first chief digital officer. Part of the technology effort will also focus on classrooms.

In his speech, Walsh said he plans to talk about forging more partnerships with technology companies and increasing students’ access to computers, tablets, and other digital tools. “We’re going to push Boston public schools to be the nation’s premier digital district by 2020,” he said.

The mayor did not offer many concrete steps to reach that goal but said the initiative would be led by the Office of New Urban Mechanics, a team that seeks to use technology to solve city problems.


The speech is also expected to offer an update on plans to redevelop the Harbor Garage site by Donald J. Chiofaro, a developer who clashed bitterly with then-mayor Thomas M. Menino over the push to build skyscrapers.

The mayor said he plans to talk about forging more partnerships with technology companies.

Chiofaro has been in touch with the new administration, Walsh said.

The mayor said he will also talk about the deal he helped forge for Fenway Center, which includes a tax break for the $550 million project that would result in five new buildings on state property that straddles the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park.

“It’s really a speech about the attitude of collaboration and making sure the business community knows they have a partner in City Hall,” Walsh said.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at