For sale: 2 acres in Dudley Square
Blair lot poses opportunity, challenges for community
In the three decades since Blair’s Family Foodland burned and closed, the Dudley Square shopping district continued a long slide of disinvestment and decay, then bounced back and regained a portion of its former vibrancy.
Several large buildings that for years were vacant now have offices and apartments — the former Ferdinand’s furniture store was developed into a six-story headquarters for the Boston Public Schools, the long-shuttered Dartmouth Hotel now has apartments on its upper floors and Palladio Hall gained new office space on its upper floors. These projects also added sidewalk-level retail spaces.
Now, the nearly two-acre site of the former Blair’s Family Foodland, which currently holds a 94-space parking lot, may have its shot at redevelopment. At the July 11 BPDA board meeting, planners from the agency will seek approval of a draft request for proposals that calls for residential development with retail and/or community space at ground level. As is the case with other city-owned parcels in the area, interested developers are being asked to submit plans with a mix of one-third affordable, one-third moderately affordable and one-third market-rate housing units.
The Blair Lot is the largest of the remaining developable city-owned parcels in Dudley Square, which also include Parcel 8 at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard and the Nawn Factory, at the Corner of Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
Along with three other parcels for which the city already has designated developers, these parcels promise to reshape Dudley Square, bringing in hundreds of new housing units to the commercial area as well as new storefronts and office space at the street level.
“There’s an opportunity, if done right, to benefit the community,” said District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey. “There will be more density. In terms of local purchasing power, that’s huge.”
In recent years, business boosters have called for a broader range of income levels in the areas around the square, which is in close proximity to the Orchard Gardens and Madison Park public housing developments. The lack of moderate- and high-income clientele in the area has translated into a shortage of customers for restaurants that have opened recently.
“In order for existing businesses to thrive, we need to have people who can support those businesses,” said Haley House Executive Director Bing Broderick. “We don’t have that now.”
While the new developments may be good for foot traffic in the area, some worry about the impact on auto traffic. The Blair Lot offers significant parking for shoppers and employees in the area. Other nearby parking options — a lot at Ziegler and Warren Streets, a lot next to Haley House Bakery Cafe and the surface parking at 135 Dudley Street — will all be offline during construction of new housing at each site. While the spots at 135 Dudley Street will be replaced by a garage, the other lots may not be.
The potential loss of parking spaces in the short- and long-term has many concerned for existing Dudley Square merchants.
“We have to balance development with the needs of business owners, who have long complained of the lack of parking,” Janey said.
Broderick said that when the Haley House Bakery Cafe was first opened, customers enjoyed the convenience of being able to park nearby.
It’s increasingly difficult,” he said. “We are mindful of that when we think about the future of the Haley House.”
Broderick says the restaurant, which is currently closed, is set to relaunch this fall. An adjacent city-owned parcel, set to be redeveloped into housing and commercial space, will likely remove much of the parking Haley House customers have relied on.
While Dudley Square houses the MBTA’s busiest bus terminal, service can be spotty as Silver Line and other buses make their way along congested streets during rush hour.
“There’s a sense that parking is going away, and everything is transit-oriented development,” Broderick said.
But, he added, the public transit system doesn’t work well.
“We need to invest in that infrastructure,” he said.
Dudley Square Main Streets Executive Director Joyce Stanley said a lack of parking in the area is one of the prime reasons given by merchants in recent years for leaving the area.
“A lot of merchants left during the construction of the Bolling Building and the utility work that was happening then,” she said. “A lot of their longtime customers couldn’t park.”
Muge Undemir, a senior planner at the BPDA who is overseeing the disposition process for the Blair Lot, said the agency recognizes that there is a parking problem in Dudley, but did not set specific guidelines for parking spaces in its RFP for the Blair lot.
“We tried to leave it open to see what people are asking for,” she said.
Including parking in development projects can add significantly to the construction costs, driving up the price of the finished residential and commercial units. Because the RFPs for the Dudley Parcels require varying degrees of affordability, Undemir says BPDA officials and community members on the parcel’s project review committee will have to evaluate which development has an optimal mix of affordability and parking.
For local businesses, getting that mix right is critically important, Broderick said.
“I think it’s really critical that the Blair Lot have a net positive with regard to parking,” he commented.