Melnea Cass Boulevard projects raise hopes of a renaissance

In the two decades since facilities owned by Digital Equipment Corporation and Stride Rite closed, taking hundreds of jobs out of Roxbury, few areas of Boston have been teased with promises of redevelopment like the Melnea Cass Boulevard corridor. At various junctures, the area has been touted for a new Boston Garden, a convention and sports megaplex, a 12-screen movie theater, and a biotech hub. During the jostling for a megaplex, the Rev. Charles Stith said development would be “reflective of Dr. King’s dream of economic empowerment.” A decade later, the Bay State Banner described the corridor as “a wasteland of overgrown weeds, discarded umbrellas, liquor bottles, trash, and vacant lots.”

Finally, though, there’s a glimmer of hope for the boulevard, whose namesake was an influential advocate for women’s suffrage and civil rights. The Boston Redevelopment Authority has tentatively designated two firms, Urbanica and Madison-Tropical, to develop two parcels facing each other on the boulevard between Shawmut Avenue and Washington Street. On one side will be Urbanica’s $63 million complex that includes a 10-story, 150-room hotel, and a five-story residential and retail building. Urbanica wants to include a restaurant and a nightclub. On the other side will be Madison-Tropical’s modern replacement for the Tropical Foods supermarket. The old market will be rehabilitated into a retail and residential building and joined by a new building providing 66 residences and more retail space.

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