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BRA Board approves Whittier St., Melnea Cass Partners projects

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
BRA Board approves Whittier St., Melnea Cass Partners projects
The Madison Park Development Corporation is planning to build two affordable apartment buildings on Melnea Cass Boulevard. (Photo: Photo courtesy the Madison Park Development Corporation)

In September the Boston Housing Authority narrowly missed approval of its HUD Choice Grant application — which called for a $300 million redevelopment of the Whittier Street public housing development and its surrounding neighborhood.

The BHA application placed sixth in a national competition where only five cities were selected for the grants.

Last week, however, the Boston Redevelopment Authority board gave the BHA the green light to begin phase one of the project — a $44 million tear-down of one of Whittier Street’s eight-story buildings on Cabot Street and the reconstruction of 68 affordable units in two new buildings, to be sited along Melnea Cass Boulevard.

“It’s full steam ahead,” said BHA Director Bill McGonagle. “We still have a vision for the Whittier Street community and the Whittier Street community still has a vision for its future. HUD’s decision certainly makes things more complicated.”

The BHA is teaming up with the Madison Park Development Corporation, which will build the new housing on land along Melnea Cass Boulevard. The buildings will include the 68 affordable units to replace those in the Cabot Street building and 22 additional units of moderate-income and market rate housing.

Madison Park Project Manager Sophia Transtamar said the CDC has not yet determined the exact mix of affordability for the 22 new units. By orienting the new buildings toward Melnea Cass Boulevard, Transtamar said Madison Park hopes to revitalize the long-desolate streetscape.

“We’re hoping that with the development of these sites, we will make Melnea Cass more inviting at the street level,” she said.

Unfinished project

The BRA cleared 900 units of housing from Melnea Cass Boulevard in 1966 as part of a planned Inner Belt Highway that would have looped from the current Massachusetts Avenue exit on Interstate 93 and cut through the Fenway and Central Square, eventually reconnecting to the interstate in Somerville. While that highway project ultimately was derailed by community protests — along with a planned extension of Interstate 95 through Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury — much of the land that was cleared for the project has remained vacant for the last 50 or so years.

Another project approved at last week’s BRA meeting was Melnea Cass Partners, LLC’s plans for a hotel at the corner of the boulevard and Washington Street. The proposed hotel, which would sit directly across Melnea Cass Boulevard from the new Tropical Foods supermarket, will include a 108-room hotel, 50 units of rental housing, and 8,000 square feet of retail space. The hotel will be a Residence Inn franchise, part of Marriott International’s portfolio of brands.

The project hit a road bump earlier this year when community activists raised opposition to the Residence Inn operator’s refusal to allow workers to unionize. The BRA agreed to greenlight the project after the hotel operator agreed to pay workers a minimum of $18 an hour and pay $400,000 into a job training program.