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BPDA releases request for proposals for P3

Anna Lamb
BPDA releases request for proposals for P3
Parcel P3 in Lower Roxbury. BANNER FILE PHOTO

After decades of failed attempts at redevelopment, the city-owned lot in Lower Roxbury known as parcel “P3” is getting another shot at new life.

Following months of community hearings, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) calling for developers to submit their plans for the lot on Tremont Street near Ruggles.

“The property has been vacant for over 40 years, and that’s totally unacceptable … This project should have happened a long time ago,” said Devin Quirk, BPDA director of Real Estate.

One of the largest properties owned by BPDA, the 7.7-acre parcel has stood mostly vacant for closer to 60 years, ever since much of the area was first cleared in the 1960s for a proposed highway project and urban renewal scheme, neither of which came to fruition. Since then, two attempts at development have stalled out, including the last proposal that promised hundreds of apartments, a new Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and a BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Hopes for that project officially ended in 2019 when the P3 Partners team led by Feldco Development failed to secure sufficient financing after eight years of tentative designation extensions. Additionally, subsequent investigation and testing have found the soil at P3 to be full of harmful contaminants.

Now, with a city focus on revitalizing Roxbury, the BPDA hopes to find a developer aligned with strategic planning goals and to provide assistance that ensures project completion.

The RFP, which calls for “economic development and affordable housing opportunities,” is one of the many steps taken as part of PLAN: Nubian Square, a subset of the larger Roxbury Strategic Master Plan aimed at creating “change and economic growth for the next ten to twenty years in Roxbury.”

Formerly known as PLAN: Dudley Square, the planning process was launched in February 2016 to “build on and update the framework for development in the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan” and create a guide for RFPs on city-owned land. The planning initiative, which is ongoing, includes a community engagement process consisting of over 50 public workshops, walking tours, community gatherings and meetings.

Since July 2018, seven parcels in the PLAN: Nubian Square area have been designated for development projects.

Noting the parcel’s location on Tremont Street across from the Boston Police Department’s headquarters, the BPDA points out P3’s value in advancing PLAN: Nubian Square due to its large size and proximity to public transit, major roads and educational facilities.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey said in a statement, “We have an incredible opportunity to move forward a development at P3 that will serve Nubian Square and all of Roxbury. The new RFP for P3 maximizes housing affordability and will ensure that new jobs and economic development opportunities will directly benefit the neighboring residents of this long-neglected parcel.”

Based on feedback from the community meetings, the RFP calls for:

A mix of uses that will “generate wealth and generate new employment prospects in education, health, medicine, bio and life sciences, and/or finance.” For lab and life science uses, proposals must include “robust job training programs that create a clear, achievable employment pipeline for Roxbury residents.”

A minimum of two-thirds of residential units must be affordable to low and moderate-income households.

A proposal that would “support and exemplify the community’s and the City’s goals for sustainable, resilient, and healthy new construction, including the City’s Carbon Neutral Boston 2050 commitment.”

20,000 square feet of consolidated open space on the corner of Tremont Street and Whittier Street that will serve as a connection to the Southwest Corridor Park and connect future development with the Whittier mixed-income housing development.

Incorporation of the combined visions of PLAN: Nubian Square, the 2004 Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, and Dudley Vision. The development should “serve as a catalyst to promote the arts, culture, education, commercial, and retail enterprise in the area in recognition of the area’s rich cultural history.”

As with all publicly-owned parcels in the city of Boston up for development since 2018, the RFP for P3 also includes a diversity and inclusion evaluation criterion, requiring developers to include a Diversity and Inclusion Plan to outline their commitments to including minority/women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) in all aspects of their development.

Respondents will also be required to submit a Good Jobs Strategy Plan, outlining how the proposal “supports the community’s expressed priorities to create and sustain good, permanent jobs in all phases of the development” and “how their proposals will develop without displacement and allow the current residents of Nubian Square to remain in their communities.”

Morgan McDaniel, BPDA senior real estate development officer, mentioned the affordable housing requirement and also the economic development as a means of achieving this goal.

“We see, and the community sees, P3 as an important way to balance that by providing the jobs and economic development side of the equation, which is still really important for keeping people at their home,” McDaniel said.

As for avoiding the pitfalls of previous projects, the BPDA said they have a state grant for $250,000 to conduct environmental remediation and they have designed a street grid to ensure utility lines are usable. 

In addition, Quirk said, the BPDA is willing to adjust its asking price for the plot to ensure any new housing stays affordable

“As much as possible, [we’re] trying to deploy every tool we have to help make this happen,” he said.

Responses to the RFP are due February 2, 2022. The RFP offers the property for a 70-year ground lease, with an asking price of $7.50 per gross square foot of newly built development per year, based on an independent appraisal.

Roxbury residents are hopeful that good is to come for parcel P3. On Twitter, local advocacy group Reclaim Roxbury wrote, “We are proud of our 6+ years of advocacy that has led to a better chance for public land to be used for public good on Parcel P3 and in Nubian Square in general. We have won a commitment for the city for 1/3 low, 1/3 middle, 1/3 market rate housing, commitment to choosing development teams that are Black-led and diverse, and more!” The group did not respond to a request for comment.

In an effort to continue to involve community voices, the BPDA is looking for 4 to 10 neighborhood voices to be a part of the Project Review Committee. Nominations can be made online.