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Parcel 8 expected to move this year

City awaits archeological report, ownership transfer, before RFP

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Parcel 8 expected to move this year
Parcel 8 abuts Eliot Burying Ground and the former site of Harrison Supply Company. (Photo: Photo: Google earth)

For decades Roxbury’s parcel 8, located at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, has lain vacant and closed to developers. This year, the Boston Redevelopment Authority plans to change that.

Among the factors that have prevented development: a complicated ownership situation. Parcel 8 comprises four sections of land, half of which are owned by the city and half by the state, said Nick Martin, director of communications for the BRA. In August 2014, legislation was passed that would shift full ownership of the parcel to the BRA. The city currently is working with the state to complete the transfer, he said.

The BRA will manage parcel 8’s development as part of its PLAN: Dudley Square process, said Lara Mérida, BRA deputy director for community planning. The BRA aims to complete community engagement about land use by this August and issue a request for proposals before the year’s end, she said.

Future visions

In 2008, the BRA and Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee conducted a series of community workshops to generate visions for parcels 8, 9 and 10. Wealth generation emerged as a priority, according to the planning report. Proposals for parcel 8 called for retail space — especially for local businesses — as well as for office and commercial use, residential units and a cultural or community center.

City Councilor Tito Jackson said turning the site into mixed-use commercial and residential would benefit the area. Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets, called for such features as a restaurant and arts and culture incubator on the site.

She also expressed concerns that it may be early to release parcel 8. Most of the parcels under the RSMPOC’s purview that have issued requests for proposals have not completed development, she said, which indicates that the market may be saturated.

“It’s a matter of, is there a viable market for the site?” Stanley said. She pointed to Bartlett Yard developer Nuestra Comunidad’s differing proposals for what entity would anchor the site. “[Nuestra] keeps changing what’s going to be put there [Bartlett Yard] because there’s no market for the kind of economic development they’re talking about. … Why do you keep putting out parcels if [other parcels] you’ve put out haven’t been able to be developed?”

As developers prepare bids, they also will have to consider aspects such as the size and historical nature of the parcel.

Size considerations

Parcel 8 occupies 58,174 square feet, according to BRA documents. It abuts Eliot Burying Ground and the approximately 55,000 square-foot former Harrison Supply Company property. Because of the parcel’s relatively small size, a developer likely will want to acquire the Harrison Supply site as well and develop the two together, said Norman Stembridge, co-chair of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, which oversees the disposition process for parcel.

“Parcel 8 itself is not that big, so I would image that a developer would probably want to look at both pieces of land,” he said.

This could present further delays: The Harrison tract is privately owned and thus a prospective developer would need to negotiate with an additional party to secure the land.

Historical limitations

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation, in collaboration with UMass’s Archaeological Services program, conducted an archeological dig on parcel 8, as part of the ownership transfer process.

Based on results of the dig, prospective developers may be required to preserve or keep open to the public historically significant elements of the parcel.

“The main reason we did the archeology was to figure out what was developable in the parcel,” State Rep. Byron Rushing said.

The dig was completed last fall and the DCR, City of Boston and Massachusetts Historical Commission are collaborating to finalize the archeological survey report. The MHC may decide further work needs to be done or that the report can be published, Rushing said, adding that he expects a decision to be issued soon.

While full details are forthcoming, Rushing had some expectations of what provisions may enter the request for proposals issued for the property. The city and state are interested in requiring a developer to restore the exterior of the Nawn Factory and keep it open for public use. For example, it could serve as an exhibit space on Roxbury history and orientation center for informing people on upcoming and ongoing local events, he said. A developer would not be expected to fund the programming, he added.

An earlier archeological dig on the corner of Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard revealed the foundation of two American Revolution-era buildings on the old Roxbury neck, which were burned during the 1970s, Rushing said. A developer might be asked to keep that space open to the public and displayed as an archeological site, he said.

Turn of the century

An earlier plan to develop part of the site was submitted in the early 2000s by the abutting Harrison Supply Company, a family-owned building supply store and warehouse. Those plans fell through; parcel 8 remained vacant and Harrison Supply Co. sold its property as well.

The plans: Christopher Marrano, the owner of Harrison Supply, proposed acquiring part of parcel 8 from the state in order to construct a $100 million medical and retail complex stretching across both his land and the piece of the parcel, according to The Boston Globe. Marrano’s project development partner, Azid Mohammad, sought the help of then-Senator Dianne Wilkerson in securing control of the state-owned land, according to reports.

During a 2008 federal corruption case, Mohammed said that from 2002 to 2006, he paid several thousand dollars to Wilkerson in exchange for her to support his efforts.

Harrison Supply Co.’s plans collapsed after Wilkerson’s arrest in 2008. Financial difficulties — compounded by the company’s refusal to sell its property while it worked to acquire part of parcel 8 — resulted in business closure, Marrano told Boston.com. Subsequently, the property was sold to the unrelated Harrison Building LLC in July 2011.