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Moving on up

Jeremy C. Fox
Moving on up

Long overdue, Jackson Square redevelopment underway in Jamaica Plain

This is a rendering of the planned exterior for the completed 270 Centre St., which is on the block between Lamartine and Wise Streets. (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation)

The planned Jackson Commons, with the existing Webb Building at right. (Photo courtesy of Urban Edge)   The Webb Building as it appears today   The construction proceeding at 270 Centre St., just across the street from the Bromley-Heath housing development. (Jeremy C. Fox photos)

For the last four decades, acres of land in Jackson Square have sat empty, taken by eminent domain and cleared as part of the state’s plan to run an extension of Interstate 95 into downtown Boston.

When community opposition led then-Gov. Francis W. Sargent to cancel the extension in 1972, it wasn’t long before developers, community leaders and elected officials began talking about what to do with that land.

And that was part of the problem: a lot of talk, but little action.

Now, thanks to a combination of federal stimulus funds, private investment and state and city support, some long-planned projects are finally underway and others will begin in the near future.

The redevelopment is expected to bring new businesses, new jobs and hundreds of new residents to Jackson Square, at the border of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, changing the fabric of the community.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) started in the grassroots opposition to the I-95 extension and has long been involved in planning the area’s revitalization.

According to JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal, reclaiming the land for use by the community is overdue.

“People have been waiting for a long time to see something happen,” Thal said. “It’s kind of a hole in the heart of a neighborhood.”

The plans include the redevelopment of nearly 11 acres that will incorporate as many as 14 to 15 separate projects at a total cost of up to $250 million, according to Mossik Hacobian, president of the nonprofit developer Urban Edge.

That group has partnered with the JPNDC, for-profit developer Mitchell Properties and the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a community empowerment group, to form Jackson Square Partners (JSP), the consortium behind the redevelopment.

Hacobian says the group is fortunate to be able to begin construction in this economic climate. “I think the key thing,” Hacobian said, “is that while a lot of development is stalled in the region and in the country because of the economic environment … we’re pleased that Jackson Square is moving forward.”

Much of the work will be done within a stone’s throw of the Bromley-Heath housing development, and residents there have been involved in the planning process from the earliest stages. David Worrell, deputy director of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC), represents the development on the Jackson Square Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

“As far as the Jackson Square development is concerned, we are actively involved,” Worrell said recently at the TMC’s offices, “and Bromley-Heath does have a voice through me and anybody else who wants to attend the meetings.”

Following a January groundbreaking led by Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and Rep. Michael E. Capuano, construction has progressed quickly at 270 Centre St., a JPNDC development that is separate from the JSP plan. It sits on the block between Lamartine and Wise Streets, directly across Centre Street from Bromley-Heath. 

Funded in part by $5.2 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds, the environmentally friendly structure will include 30 apartments on the upper three floors and retail space on the ground floor.

The next project in the area is planned to be the development at 225 Centre St. It is now a grassy lot between the Jackson Square MBTA stop and the corner of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue. The six-story structure, to be built by Mitchell Properties, will include ground-floor retail and 103 units of affordable housing on the upper five floors.

Mitchell Properties plans to begin construction by September or October of this year, around the time construction winds down at 270 Centre St.

Across Columbus Avenue, Urban Edge plans to renovate the historic Webb Building, where it has its offices, and build a four-story addition to be called “Jackson Commons.”

It would include 38 mixed-income rental units with retail, community and office space on the ground floor, including a new office suite for Urban Edge. The organization expects approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority in April and plans to apply for state funding later this year and begin construction by mid-2011.

On the south side of the Webb Building, Urban Edge is working with the Friends of the Kelly Rink to plan an indoor activity center with an ice rink. The group is advocating for the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation to appropriate $5.69 million authorized in a 2008 bond bill in order to insure that the funds are ready by the time the group raises the other $7.5 million necessary for the project, probably in 2012 or 2013.

The new facility would replace the Kelly Ice Rink, which once sat alongside the Jamaicaway and has now been operating for a decade in what was planned as a temporary site in the Southwest Corridor Park.

Some plans have had to be reconfigured in line with current realities, while others have been cancelled or postponed. JSP had intended for new housing at 225 Centre St. and Jackson Commons to be geared toward homeownership, but the downturn in the housing market required a shift to rental housing.

A planned Department of Youth Services facility had to be scrapped when the agency backed out, and a youth and families center to be built on the west side of Columbus Avenue between Heath and Centre Streets and operated by the HSTF has been delayed due to financing difficulties, leading to frustration among some community leaders.

Worrell expressed concern that the delay would hurt efforts to build bridges among neighborhood residents. “The youth and family center was one of the things that the community said really needed to be built in the first phase,” Worrell explained, “because that was what was going to hold the whole development project together.”

JSP also plans a series of street improvements intended to make the area safer, more attractive and more pedestrian-friendly.

The plans include new streetlights and plantings; a new median down the center of Columbus Avenue; a relocated, unusually wide crosswalk across Centre Street connecting the two sides of the bicycle lane of the Southwest Corridor Park; a new sidewalk along the public works yard on Ritchie Street and a widened bus lane into Jackson Square station, along with lighting and accessibility improvements to the station.

The street improvements are planned in four phases, with each structured so the work could halt after any phase of development if funding for the next step were unavailable. Phase 1a, which includes improvements to the bus lane, the Columbus Avenue median and the Lamartine Street intersection, is approved and funded, thanks to a $3 million commitment from the state made in 2008.

Work could begin as early as May and may be completed this year. The design and engineering for Phase 1b have been funded but the work has not; it is expected to begin by 2012.

Andrew Winter, director of real estate for the JPNDC, said the goal is to make improvements without losing the distinctive elements that make the neighborhood what it is today.

“Our challenge,” Winter said, “is to do development in a way that preserves the very best of the neighborhood and that ensures that Jamaica Plain remains a vibrant, economically diverse, racially diverse neighborhood where people can live and work together with a variety of economic opportunities, cultural opportunities and housing opportunities.