If there were a contest for the worst place in Boston to take a visitor, the half-mile strip of Dorchester Avenue between South Station and Broadway Station would be high on the list.
But in the eyes of Olympic boosters, this industrial stretch of asphalt surrounded by parking lots, clanging commuter rail trains, and rumbling postal trucks can be turned into a glittering international destination, a pedestrian thoroughfare to welcome thousands of spectators to the Boston Games.
The proposed transformation of the gritty, utilitarian avenue into a television-ready “Olympic Boulevard” lined with parks, housing, and retail shops represents one of the largest leaps Boston 2024 will have to make to deliver on its glimmering vision for the Games.
The boulevard — featured in bid committee plans released in January and part of the revamped bid expected this month — would be the main pathway for spectators walking to the Olympic Stadium in Widett Circle.
A colorful rendering produced by Boston 2024 earlier this year shows revelers strolling along a wide walkway speckled with outdoor cafes while “hospitality barges” for visiting athletes and corporate sponsors bob in adjacent Fort Point Channel.
These days, the only business on the strip is Tolman Manufacturing and Supply Co. The ramshackle emporium, founded in 1898, sells welding torches and propane tanks as well as stink bombs and whoopie cushions it acquired when it bought another business, Little Jack Horner Jokes and Magic, years ago.
“We’re a pretty funky operation,” Thomas Bankman, the co-owner of the shop, said with a chuckle. “We’re not showpiece material.”
In a bid studded with controversial plans, however, the reinvention of the northern end of Dot. Ave. appears to enjoy some local support.
Many residents believe the Olympics will force the city to act on its long-stalled plan to reopen part of the avenue behind the South Station postal facility, which has been closed to pedestrians and cars since the 1950s. That would make it easier for Southie resident Ben Russell, a 41-year-old writer, to walk from his home on Dorchester Avenue, on one side of the postal complex, to his office in the Financial District, on the other side.
“I have my own ideas about the Olympic Stadium and all that other stuff, because I think it’s just going to be a pain,” said Russell, who was taking his daily walk along Dorchester Avenue with his two dogs on Tuesday. “But if there’s going to be anything good that comes out of it, maybe they fix the transit systems, and maybe they could unify these two neighborhoods.”
Bill Gleason, president of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, said this portion
of Dorchester Avenue has not kept up with rapid development on nearby blocks, where high-end condos and trendy restaurants like Moonshine 152 have sprouted near rail yards and industrial warehouses.
Standing near Broadway Station, he pointed out five traffic lights with different designs, an unattractive T entrance, sidewalks that need to be widened, and streets that need bike lanes.
“I see it as an impetus for things that already need to be done,” Gleason said. “What we’re going to be left with is a better, more beautiful, more vibrant, walkable, bikeable city.”
Bankman, the co-owner of Tolman supply shop, was the lone voice along the strip adamantly opposed to construction of the Olympic Boulevard. He said there was no way his shop, chock-a-block with gas tanks, would survive if Dorchester Avenue were redesigned to impress Olympic revelers, corporate sponsors, and global television audiences.
“Basically, what Boston is doing is losing its industrial base for condominiums,” he said. “What it’s doing is forcing the industry out.”
David Manfredi, chief planner for Boston 2024, said the boulevard would not require any businesses to be relocated, although he said a welding supply shop may not be the “highest and best use” for that parcel.
The postal facility is another matter. Boston 2024’s original plan for the area hinged on the relocation of the South Station facility, but that proposal has stalled. If the complex does not move, Manfredi said Boston 2024 could ask the Postal Service for temporary permission for spectators to walk behind the facility, on part of the avenue open only to mail trucks.
Unlike the Olympic venues, which would be privately financed, the Olympic Boulevard would have to be publicly financed, since Dorchester Avenue is a public street, Manfredi said. He did not have a price tag for the project, but said Boston 2024 would pay for some amenities to prepare the boulevard for the Games.
More broadly, he said, the Olympics could jump-start the reopening of the avenue, leaving behind bike lanes and sidewalks that link South Boston to downtown and the waterfront. “It’s a viable plan, with or without the Olympics,” Manfredi said.
Tammy Larson, who works at Gillette, which has a large employee parking lot on Dorchester Avenue, said she was intrigued by the idea, but worried about how it might affect her coworkers and friends at Tolman Manufacturing and Supply. A Gillette spokesman declined to comment on the plan, which could pave the way for housing and shops to replace the company’s parking lot.
“I think of the little people,” Larson said on a smoke break on the proposed Olympic Boulevard. “But if they relocated them, and didn’t mess up all our parking, I’d be all for it.”