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Big arts, culture changes in store for Nubian Sq.

Nubian Ascends plan includes theater space, artist lofts, culinary market

Scott Haas
Big arts, culture changes in store for Nubian Sq.
Nubian Ascends will transform the Blair Lot into a new community arts and cultural center. ARCHITECTS RENDERING

Nubian Square Ascends is a real estate project set to bring big changes to the arts, culture and culinary experience in Nubian Square. Tentative designation is being granted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), with terms including a 99-year ground lease, for redevelopment of the Blair Lot at Washington and Palmer Streets near Nubian Station. The project team’s goal is to obtain final planning approval in December 2022, start development early in 2023 and have doors open in about three years. 

Nubian Ascends will transform the Blair Lot into a new community arts and cultural center. ARCHITECTS RENDERING

Nubian Square Ascends is a partnership led by Richard Taylor, who is 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 (31% interest in Nubian Square Ascends). Other major partners include Steven Rogers, a real estate developer, retired Harvard Business School senior lecturer of business administration and author (16% interest); Kai and Chris Grant, owners of Black Market (10% interest); and Mario San Jacinto, founder of the private equity firm Almiranta Cap-ital (16% interest).

Rogers’ books include “Successful Black Entrepreneurs,” a collection of Harvard Business School case studies about Black entrepreneurs succeeding in varied industries and routes including start-ups, franchising and acquisitions, and “A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues,” which addresses causes of and solutions for racial wealth disparities in the U.S.

San Jacinto spoke to the Banner about the project on behalf of the development group.

“The Culinary Market will provide opportunities to locals in the community, including training, kitchens for vendors and public space on the 1st floor of commercial building and outside at the newly created Nubian Square,” San Jacinto said. “The business concept is under design; however, it is not intended to be rental spaces, but culinary experiences under one operation. We strongly believe that local culture and flavors are the best way to avoid gentrification in the community. Therefore, we are not looking for a franchise model.”

He added, “On the Cultural Center proposed as part of Nubian Ascends Project, there will be an emphasis on three types of activities. One, a theatrical space with local artists, performing companies and for the use of the community; two, educational space in arts and culture very much in connection with area schools; and three, much-needed rehearsal space for all sorts of performers.”

San Jacinto also said there are two additional unnamed financial partners “from Boston and France” with 26% interest in the project, and “a long list of other minor contributors to the development, mainly from the Boston business and education communities.”

Overall, the project is seen by the core development team as a vital and unique opportunity to have the local community participate in change that will not lead to outside definitions of what Nubian Square was, is and will be. Historically the center of Black life in Boston, the former Dudley Square is prime real estate. By addressing the cultural and culinary values of the Square, the idea is to perpetuate a definition that accurately reflects that history and potential future through strong financial backing.

Arthur Jemison, chief of planning for Boston, told the Banner, “We believe Nubian Ascends can deliver on the community’s vision for the neighborhood, set out through PLAN: Nubian Square, by creating quality jobs, business opportunities that lead to wealth creation, new housing and cultural space. By transforming a BPDA-owned parking lot into a destination that will significantly benefit a key district in Boston, we believe Nubian Ascends can represent BPDA’s goals of using public land for public good.”

The project aims to adhere to city workforce diversity guidelines. In its proposal to the city, the Nubian Ascends team notes, “We will strive to meet and exceed the following goals contained in the Boston Residents Job Policy as follows:

At least 51% of the total work hours of journey people and 51% of the total work hours of apprentices in each trade must go to Boston residents.

At least 40% of the total work hours of journey people and 40% of the total work hours of apprentices in each trade must go to people of color.

At least 12% of the total work hours of journey people and 12% of the total work hours of apprentices in each trade must go to women.”

To ensure that these goals are met, the project will be monitored through the jobs sub-committee of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee and as a large project will be subject to review by the Boston Employment Commission, according to the BPDA.

Funding support from the city of Boston totals $1,083,632, according to the BPDA. San Jacinto noted that support also has been “received from a syndicate of banks and MassDevelopment: BlueHub Loan Fund, MHIC, LISC, LEAF, TLI and PCI, who have provided a $3 million loan facility arranged by Affirmative Investments.” According to San Jacinto, the overall project cost will be about $164 million.

As the project evolves, criteria for individuals to participate are taking shape. The group intends to structure opportunities for community investment.

“Making Nubian Square a city destination and making sure it stays a center of community life are our goals,” said San Jacinto.

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