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Parcel P-3: A new beginning or a dead end?

Delays dog development on city-owned Roxbury land

Melvin B. Miller
Parcel P-3: A new beginning or a dead end?
Parcel P-3. -Banner Photo

Well before Boston’s building boom erupted, Elma Lewis Partners, LLC had been granted development rights for Parcel P-3. The imaginative plan was to construct housing, office and retail buildings along the now barren site that had been levelled in an earlier plan to extend Interstate 95 through Roxbury and the South End. That highway plan failed and the present P-3 Project under the management of Feldco Development is about to follow suit.

“It seems like the developers ought to partner with someone who knows how to get the job done.”

Black residents of Roxbury were especially enthusiastic about the proposed project, which is now called Tremont Crossing, because it was to include the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists. What is more, the NCAAA would receive revenue as a principal of the project. This would help defray the expense of managing a first rate museum.

After several false starts in launching the project threatened the loss of the Elma Lewis Partners’ development rights, Feldco stepped forward in 2010 as the skilled developer to the rescue. But that was almost eight years ago and the project still has not yet broken ground. Much to the dismay and embarrassment of blacks, new hotels, office buildings and condos seem to sprout from parking lots on the waterfront and elsewhere, while P-3 has remained a weed-filled lot.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, now known as the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), has graciously extended the tentative designation of the P-3 Partners as developers despite the failure of Feldco to begin construction. However, the final extension will end on May 31 unless further action is taken by the BPDA. P-3 Partners will lose their tentative designation as developers.

Implementation of the imaginative development plan proposed by Elma Lewis Partners, LLC is in jeopardy. The last chance for remedial action by the BPDA will occur on May 17 at their board meeting in Boston City Hall. If the designation is automatically rescinded, the process of starting from scratch is so time consuming that the project as presently conceived might never be realized.

Unfortunately, development by Feldco has not been artfully handled. Their management problems will not be corrected simply by the infusion of more capital. Prospective tenants for the project are unlikely to be willing to convert a mere letter of interest to a binding commitment when there is little assurance of the construction schedule.

In the intervening years there have been developments around the P-3 site to upgrade substantially the quality of that location. On the south side, the Whittier Street Health Center is an architecturally attractive five-story building. On the west side is the modern Boston Police headquarters and a recently constructed Northeastern University dormitory. On the north side, a massive renovation of Whittier Street public housing is underway. The mixed-income housing planned there will expand the customer base for the P-3 retail market.

There are undoubtedly a number of developers with the political skills to assist Feldco to complete this project. Without reasonable assurance of the timely completion of the Elma Lewis Partners proposal there is no reason for the BPDA to do any more than to do nothing. They can simply adjourn the meeting and allow the tentative designation to be automatically rescinded. As often happens, black citizens will be primarily the ones to suffer.

roxbury, Roxbury development