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Developers bet on Nubian Square revival

Nubian Ascends project aims to compliment cultural district

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Developers bet on Nubian Square revival
An architect’s rendering of the Nubian Ascends project.

The Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee voted this month to recommend Nubian Ascend Partners, LLC  to develop the Blair Lot, the largest vacant parcel remaining in the Nubian Square area.

The team, led by real estate developer Richard Taylor, plans to turn the BPDA-owned parking lot into a hub for commerce, entertainment and art by 2024.

Taylor is the owner of the Nubian Gallery in the former Hamill Gallery of African Art, co-developer of the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport and developer of Douglass Park Apartments in lower Roxbury.

The Blair Lot sits at Washington Street and Palmer Street, around the corner from Nubian Station. While the project takes advantage of the major transportation hub, it will also have a parking garage, adding 340 spaces. Covering 329,000 square feet, its main features include a marketplace and culinary center with a food hall, five floors of office space, a cultural hall and event space, artist live/work residences, and indoor and outdoor public space.

The project’s emphasis on arts and culture was a requirement from the BPDA, but also the chief interest of the Nubian Ascends team.

“The Roxbury Cultural District is a big part of our thinking,” Taylor told the Banner. “We spent a lot of time thinking about what was missing, to help with the vibrancy, and what we can do that would be complementary.”

Kai and Chris Grant, owners of the local business incubator Black Market, are on the core development team to create economic opportunities and help curate cultural aspects of the project.

“We’re tying art in with economic development, because this is about transforming the heart, the actual center, of Nubian Square and doing it in a way where creatives have a voice,” Kai Grant told the Banner.

To create an artistic hub in the square, there will be a 25,000-square-foot cultural hall and 19,000 square feet of artist live/work spaces.

“And we’re developing a program so they can own the units and not be in a constant rent escalation situation,” Taylor said.

He and Grant have worked closely together through the Black Market and Nubian Gallery.

“We have been collaborating on events in the Lot, and events in the gallery and events in the Black Market space with local businesses and minority businesses,” Taylor said.

Grant most recently worked with local artists on the Black Lives Matter street mural on Washington Street, and just finished a series of “Black Joy Markets” for the holiday season.

The Nubian Ascends team is led by Black people, and they hope to encourage the surrounding Black community to participate in driving traffic into the square and creating lasting wealth. The developers will continue this trend of minority involvement during construction and at completion, with at least 51% of total employees working on the parcel being people of color and 12% women.

The rest of the team includes Jen Faigel, executive director of Commonwealth Kitchen, which is focused on racial and social justice through growing food businesses; residential brokers Engel & Volkers; and commercial brokers Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.

The development costs currently total $126 million, with $30 million in equity from partner Almiranta Capital.

Taylor also has developed a vehicle for smaller, community-based investors to contribute to funding.

“We just can’t come in and have the professional development community report economic benefits,” Taylor said. “Local residents must also have an opportunity to invest.”

He’s planning to offer buy-in for as little as $1,000 per investor, lowering the bar so more people can participate.

Though many project schedules have been thrown off by the COVID-19 emergency, Taylor hopes to complete the development by late 2024.

The Blair Lot development, along with projects planned for Parcel 8, the Nawn Factory and Bartlett Place — all part of the BPDA’s Roxbury Strategic Master Plan — will change the landscape of the neighborhood dramatically.

Nubian Ascends’ development submission to the BPDA includes a brief history of Roxbury’s great buildings that once defined the cultural and commercial hub. The Oriental Block, the Roxbury Theater and the Bacon Building, the team wrote, were among the early establishments that defined the urban center. 

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