‘A ray of hope’ near Dudley Square
Hope now rises on a vacant lot near Dudley Square.
After five years of planning, a Roxbury hotel project that became mired in uncertainty over unionization and higher wages finally got the green light from the city.
With the wrangling over pay settled, the hotelier promises to start hotel wages at $18 an hour, provide $400,000 for community jobs training, and add 8,000 square feet of commercial space in an area realizing its dream of renaissance.
“At some point, we thought there is not much that can be done. But we kept our hopes up,’’ said Kamran Zahedi, whose development and design firm, Urbanica Inc., is leading the project.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority board unanimously approved the project Thursday. The $38 million project promises to transform the barren city lot — known as Parcel 9 — into a 108-room Marriott Residence Inn, 50 rental apartments, and retail space.
It would add at least 44 permanent jobs and remake the corner of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Washington Street, now dotted with subsidized housing and a field.
But just as important, it would inaugurate a new business corridor connecting Dudley Square to downtown, with the hope of attracting other developers and visitors from nearby colleges, museums, and hospitals.
“This hotel and housing project is part of the growing momentum of the Dudley Square area,’’ said Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury. “Dudley Square is the physical center of Boston, and this should be used as a real education about the direction that the city is going.”
But not everyone is satisfied. Some remain disappointed that the hotel will not agree to make it a union shop.
Priscilla Flint, spokeswoman for the Roxbury-Dorchester Campaign for Good Jobs Standard, said she found out about the BRA meeting at the last minute. Flint and others had been pushing for better pay for the hotel employees and assurances that workers would not face retaliation for trying to unionize.
“It is what it is,’’ Flint said of the city’s approval of the project. “We tried. We are going to make sure they do what they say they are going to do — in terms of higher pay and jobs training.”
Chuck Turner, a former Roxbury district councilor, called the city approval of the project “a mistake’’ because, he said, it hampers the rights of workers to organize.
“This government is making decisions in a district that has the highest poverty rate in the city, and it is a decision that is going to have an unfair competitive advantage,’’ Turner said.
He said the fight now is to ensure the company is transparent and held accountable for its promises.
Jackson called the negotiations “messy but good,’’ saying he wanted to ensure residents in Roxbury also benefit from the project. He said when he first ran for office in 2011, he focused on the “bright lights” of Dudley Square, and he’s proud of its turnaround.
His goal now, he said, is to enhance development without displacing residents, and to support projects that create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.
“The way we deal with many of the issues of violence in our community as well as the hopelessness that many feel is to counter it with opportunity,’’ Jackson said. “And I believe that projects like this are a ray of hope . . . in our community.”
Dudley Square is already feeling the lift, with the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building brimming with school officials and a new Dudley Cafe teeming with patrons. The spacious Tropical Supermarket, which anchors a section of the square, stands as a reminder of other projects to come.
“It’s a new and great day for Boston,” Jackson said.
The Parcel 9 project was conceived in 2010, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority selected Urbanica in 2012 to redevelop the site.
Zahedi secured the crucial financing — including tax credits — found a hotelier, and won approval from Roxbury’s oversight and master plan committee. But late in the process, the project stalled after jobs advocates pressed for a union hotel and pay to start at $15.
The process ground to a halt. BRA director Brian P. Golden cautioned the project would not proceed without political support.
Zahedi said Jackson worked behind the scenes to negotiate pay even higher than what advocates had sought — $18 an hour — as well as the jobs training initiative and additional commercial space.
Zahedi said he expects to break ground in the spring.