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Guscott’s towering aspiration: 25-story Dudley Square tower to bring nightlife, business opportunities

25-story Dudley Square tower to bring nightlife, biz opportunities

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Guscott’s towering aspiration: 25-story Dudley Square tower to bring nightlife, business opportunities
A rendering of the Rio Grande building with the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building in the foreground. (Photo: Courtesy Stall & Lee Architects)

Late developer Ken Guscott’s dream of a soaring tower in Dudley Square took a step forward as the development team filed papers to begin a public review process with the Boston Planning and Development Agency last Friday. The 25-story Rio Grande Tower is expected to enliven the area with nightlife, new shops and commercial space. Members of the development team sat down with the Banner last week to talk plans.

Team members Ricky Thompson, Deborah Bernat, Greg Janey, Lisa Guscott, Ryan Hutchings, Beverly Johnson, Chuck Eisenberg and Thomas Welch.

Jumpstart for Dudley

Lisa Guscott, who is leading the project, said her father, who died in March, envisioned that the tower would restore to Dudley Square the lively activity he remembered from his youth.

“He wanted to see [Dudley] come back to what it was before he went off to war in World War II,” Lisa Guscott said. “Dudley was very vibrant.”

Beverly Johnson, project manager, said the residential piece will ensure there is a critical mass of people out in the evenings to support night life.

“[It will bring] folks who are out in the shops in the evening, getting dinner, going to entertainment spots. You’re talking about a Dudley with more of a 24/7 energy and dynamic, as opposed to an 8-to-5 dynamic, which is what you have now,” Johnson said. “It’s really going to transform the face of Dudley and make it more of a destination spot, not just for locals but at some point, also for tourists.”

David Lee, of the project architects Stull & Lee, said in a Banner phone interview that he expects the units primarily to serve young people drawn by the easy transit access and proximity to employment centers, as well as older long-time community members looking to downsize to a home easier to maintain while staying in their community and near their family and social networks.

He echoed others in noting that retail and commercial space also will invigorate the area.

“It’ll bring a lot of new activity to the square with robust retail activity on lower floors…[And] with over 200 apartment units, it’ll have people coming and going all day and late into the evening, which, along with other activities, will energize that part of the city,” Lee said.

Inside the tower

The tower will include 211 residential units (46 condos and 165 rental apartments); about 23,000 square feet of retail space, including banks already on the site, and 28,000 square feet of commercial office space, according to Tom Welch, financial advisor on the project.

The project goes beyond city requirements by designating 20 percent of rental units as affordable: Of the 165 rental units, 10 will be affordable to those making up to 80 percent of Area Median Income and 30 to those making up to 70 percent AMI. Of the 46 condos, two will be affordable to those making 70 percent of AMI and four to those making 100 percent AMI, Welch said. The affordable units all will be on-site and mixed among market-rate offerings, Johnson said.

Banks already there will remain, and new retail is expected to include cafes and shops, although no specific tenants are arranged yet, Lee said.

The tower also models a new kind of development that takes advantage of the Dudley Station transit hub. Parking for residents and employees is still under discussion, but currently is expected to be located within walking distance at an off-site lot shared by other buildings. Lee said due to the ready provision of public transit, the project can have a very low ratio of parking spots, potentially at 0.3 or 0.4 spaces per unit.

Welch said the development’s price tag is not finalized, but he estimated it will cost $143 million to complete the project. AFL-CIO investments support the residential and commercial pieces, with condos supported by sales. Article 80 filing has made the project official enough to attract more financers, he said. One boon to the project is the high cost of land in the city is not an issue: Ken Guscott and his brothers acquired the site in the early 1980s, Welch said.

Breaking the mold

The project stands apart as a massive black-led development that models how a transit-oriented development sited in an urban area can be done, Lisa Guscott said. Part of the impact is just showing that such a project is possible, she said.

“I know this project will put Boston on the map nationally, just in terms of what we’re doing in an urban area,” she said. “Something of this magnitude, I don’t know if it’s been done anywhere else in the country.”

“This is a newly emerging development concept and we’ll be at the forefront of it,” Johnson said.

Beyond the tower: Capacity building

Ken Guscott’s legacy goes beyond developing physical buildings: he also opened doors for black businesses and professionals to develop. Johnson said that Ken Guscott envisioned the project as a wealth-creation opportunity via both the economic stimulation provided by activity in the completed tower and the expanded opportunities for those engaged in its creation. He believed that the assembled development team would be able to lead and launch similar projects in the future, she said.

Deborah Bernat, who is handling marketing, said her involvement gives her a hard-to-attain opportunity to transition into working with towers and other new types of construction. Johnson, too, said the tower expands her future opportunities.

“How often is it that an African American woman gets the opportunity to be project manager for a project of this magnitude?” Johnson said. “Benefits will come to my reputation for having managed this project. There are opportunities yet to come that I believe will be based on what I’m doing [here].”

Greg Janey’s Janey Company was contracted for the construction and Janey brought on Gilbane Building Company as a partner taking on the majority of the financial risk. This is the third project the two firms have collaborated on, with each one increasing Janey Company’s capacity to become the majority partner.

Janey said that Ken Guscott was crucial in growing Janey Company from a firm that worked on small restaurants, small commercial renovations and residential renovations to one that can handle a job of this size. Guscott introduced Janey to financing and development partners, built relationships and sought out Janey for engagement on significant jobs.

The tower project also will provide new jobs during its creation. Janey said he expected that 800 to 1,000 construction jobs will be created over the course of the development, and Lisa Guscott said that there will be an emphasis on engaging women in those positions.

“We want those kids from Madison Park, when walking by, to see black men and women [working on the site],” she said.

The development team went through a community engagement process two years ago and will re-engage the community during the post-filing review process, Johnson said. Janey and Lee said they expect it will take about two years to build the tower, and Lee anticipated breaking ground this fall.

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