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Benjamin Franklin Institute makes investment in Roxbury

Emily Foster Day, Kristi Keefe and Aisha Francis

Though the South End’s iconic brownstones are one of the neighborhood’s most defining features, this is also a community fortunate enough to have a mix of anchor institutions to help diversify the neighborhood, support its businesses, and offer resources to residents.

Since 1970 and 1908, respectively, Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) and Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) have been two of these organizations, connecting Boston’s youth to arts, technical careers and opportunities for our evolving economy. Our existence has brought people from across Boston to the South End for learning, cultural programs and connections. Equally important, our presence has created economic vitality, supporting local shops, restaurants and service providers.

Like most aspects of the city, our organizations have not remained static. BCA has expanded its campus with the addition of the Calderwood Pavilion in 2004 and its residencies, exhibitions and performance programs — providing critical professional infrastructure for hundreds of Boston-area visual and performing artists each year and meaningful connections between these artists and the community. BFIT has advanced its programs for an increasingly technology-driven economy, with a growing focus on careers in green and clean technologies.

Today, that evolution is taking BFIT to Roxbury, and a new institution is proposed for its current home. BFIT needs — and its overwhelmingly Black and brown students deserve — a 21st-century space. The 1908 building on Berkeley Street has outlived its lifespan as a technical college. Through careful planning, the school has identified a developer that has proposed a mixed-use project that preserves the historic building as commercial space, includes public green space in the South End and creates much-needed supported senior housing in our city. Though not a cultural or education institution, the senior housing project will be an anchor in its own right, bringing to the Ellis neighborhood additional patrons for arts and theater productions and customers for local business.

In turn, BFIT will move to a new, purpose-built facility in Nubian Square – becoming an important education, economic and community tether in that neighborhood.

A lot of good comes from spreading the wealth. There is an opportunity to transfer the positive effects BFIT has had in the South End to Roxbury, the epicenter of Boston. A visible beacon for educational opportunities that haven’t always been accessible to the young people of Nubian Square’s neighboring communities, BFIT can inspire students to consider a broader array of education and career opportunities. Graduates frequently establish careers in industries offering salaries that outpace the typical median family income, creating new wealth. And with a steady flow of foot traffic from students, faculty and staff, local businesses will have a new client base.

BFIT’s transition to Nubian Square is facilitated by funds from the sale and redevelopment of the Berkeley Street campus; assuring that the proposed use in the South End moves forward in a timely fashion will enable a more effective transition for BFIT.

BCA deeply understands how important the approval of this project is for BFIT and its students. BCA’s ability to stay in its historic South End campus and continue to support Boston’s cultural community was directly tied to the approval of the Atelier 505 project in the late 1990s. In fact, the South End Landmarks Commission and the BPDA came to our aid and approved the Atelier project height in part to ensure the future success of BCA and the incredible value that this anchor organization brings to the neighborhood. 

There has been consistent community support for BFIT’s move to Nubian Square and the possibilities it represents for the neighborhood. As proven by the long successful history in South End, BFIT’s relocation will bring innovative energy to Nubian Square and create invaluable pathways to the careers of tomorrow for Boston’s young people.

As leaders of these historic institutions, we urge the City of Boston and the South End Landmarks Commission to help secure a bright future for BFIT in Nubian Square and a new use for its Berkeley Street site. Thoughtful development like this is how our city can grow and change to meet the evolving needs of its residents, businesses and cultural institutions.

Emily Foster Day and Kristi Keefe are co-executive directors of Boston Center for the Arts. Dr. Aisha Francis is president and CEO of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. 

BCA, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, BFIT, Boston Center for the Arts, opinion, roxbury, south end
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