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Drug trade heavy amid wealth near Boston Common

The stretch of Boylston Street between Tremont and Washington streets has long been notorious as a destination for drug users and their dealers.BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

In downtown Boston, Avery and Boylston streets jut out from Boston Common only a block apart, but they might as well be worlds apart.

Home to the Ritz-Carlton, Sports Club/LA, and the high-end furniture store Roche-Bobois, Avery Street bustles with parking attendants, hotel guests, condominium residents, and chauffeurs.

Boylston Street bustles, too, but with a completely different vibe.

The block between Washington and Tremont streets is an urban mix of historic buildings, an adult book and video store, a day shelter for the homeless, and what police say is the site of multiple complaints and tips about “blatant drug use” and hundreds of drug arrests.


On Sunday, drug control officers working there ensnared a JetBlue Airways Corp. pilot on a heroin charge.

“Historically, that area has been an area of a lot of drug activity,” said Boston police Captain Kenneth Fong, who commands District A-1, which covers downtown and Charlestown.

“There’s a lot of new residential units being built there, a lot of new businesses. We’re trying to change the face of the area working with the neighborhood residents and businesses,” Fong said.

In the last few months, Fong said, officers have nearly doubled the overall number of arrests they have made across the district.

RELATED: Lawyer says JetBlue pilot not buying drugs

Boston police also say there have been 213 drug arrests on Boston Common and the surrounding area, including Tremont, Park, and Boylston streets between Jan. 1, 2012, and the present.

Heroin and crack cocaine are the most common drugs found there, said Sergeant Michael McCarthy, a police spokesman.

Fong said police have increased the number of patrols by uniformed and undercover officers. There are also bicycle and motorcycle patrols and officers who park their police cruisers and walk around, he said.

Transit Police say surveillance cameras have “greatly reduced” the number of people taking shelter inside Chinatown station to consume drugs, said Lieutenant Detective Richard Sullivan, commander of the special crimes unit.


Residents say they have noticed the drive to clean up the area.

“The new mayor is trying,” said Kevin Barron, a lawyer who lives on Washington Street. “Before the new mayor, there were hand-to-hand drug sales in broad daylight during lunch time.”

Barron credited police for their efforts, but added: “All the development and the rise of prices hasn’t changed the situation in the street yet.”

RELATED: DEA details path of deadly heroin blend to N.E.

According to a police report, drug control officers who arrested John Manwaring, the JetBlue pilot, noticed him while running an investigation near St. Francis House, a day shelter.

Karen LaFrazia, the shelter’s executive director, said St. Francis House “has taken the initiative to be part of the solution to all kinds of negative things that might be happening.”

“St. Francis House has been one of the loudest voices in the neighborhood pushing for more arrests, pushing for this to be a safer, drug-free neighborhood,” LaFrazia said. “Drug dealers make it that much harder for us to do our work.”

Last August, LaFrazia said she started organizing meetings of what she calls the “Boylston Block,” which includes the property managers and owners from places such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Emerson College, and The Hamilton Company Inc., a real estate firm.

The group’s objective is to improve the quality of life on their stretch of Boylston Street, from Boston Common to Washington Street.


“There’s a heroin problem in the city of Boston. There are people buying heroin and they run [the] gamut from people who are homeless to commercial airline pilots to everything in between,” LaFrazia said. “It’s my intention to create a better neighborhood for everybody and that means absent drug dealers.”

One issue the shelter’s neighbors cite is how St. Francis House draws in people who want to prey upon the homeless men and women there.

RELATED: A father’s unstoppable need to know

“As long as there are those who are trying to straighten themselves out and there are those who are going to try to draw them back in,” said Bob Jolly Jr., business manager at the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, located at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re swimming against the tide. It just keeps coming,” Jolly said.

Property managers approached the Boston Redevelopment Authority for help with the streetscape and the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District “adopted” the China Trade Center at the city’s request.

The nonprofit added a produce vendor and dispatched “ambassadors” there to welcome pedestrians, give directions, clean up, and perform other services, according to Rosemarie Sansone, the organization’s president.

The Hamilton Company, which has two properties on Boylston Street, increased lighting and installed planters with evergreens in front of one of its buildings, said Jim Burke, the firm’s director of property management and leasing.


“Everybody has their mind in a good place and wants to help, but it’s resources and just getting people to commit,” he said.

Chris White, a software engineer who lives on Washington Street, cited such improvements as restaurants opening on the weekends for brunch and condominiums taking over what was once Locke-Ober Cafe.

He said he hopes improvements will spread further when work is completed on a 625-foot tower under construction at the site of the former Filene’s property, and building owners find tenants for vacant properties in the neighborhood.

Peggy Ings, an Emerson College administrator and a member of the Midtown Park Plaza Neighborhood Association, said the Common has always attracted a wide variety of people.

But now, she says, people are paying millions to be there.

“People investing a great deal to be here,” she said. “And more and more people are looking to buy down here. That has to tell a story as well.”

Related stories:

Lawyer says JetBlue pilot not buying drugs

JetBlue pilot faces heroin charge

Mass. ranks low overall in prescribing opioids

MGH to screen all patients for substance abuse

DEA details path of deadly heroin blend to N.E.

Drug-addicted babies in Mass. are triple national rate

A father’s unstoppable need to know

Boston Police and neighborhood groups have stepped up their efforts to drive drug dealers out of the Boston Common-Boylston Street areas. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.