Development plans hiccup

January 9, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

State rules, tough economy cause headaches

JACKSON SQ.—The nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) Urban Edge is going back to the drawing board with a major component of its phase 1 plans for its part of a multi-developer $250 million redevelopment project.

Urban Edge had proposed to build a 13,500-square-foot state Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility “for young men under temporary custody of the Commonwealth,” according to information provided by Jackson Square Partners. But it was revealed to the Gazette last week that plan fell through almost a year ago.

The new building would have replaced a similar facility on the same lot at 1562 Columbus Avenue in an Urban Edge-owned building where Urban Edge’s offices are also located.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood redevelopment project the new DYS facility was to be a part of has stalled. Ground was to be broken on the multi-phase, multi-developer Jackson Square redevelopment in 2008, but city and state funding did not come through.

With the recent economic downturn, Jackson Square Partners—a group of non- and for-profit developers that have spent over a decade putting the project together—is not counting on work starting anytime soon.

“We are looking for ways to move forward. The hope is we can start in 2009,” said Noah Maslan, director of real estate for Urban Edge.

In addition to Urban Edge, Jackson Square Partners includes the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC)—another JP CDC; the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF)—a community organization making its first foray into development; and the locally owned for-profit developer Mitchell Properties. Working on individual projects around the square, the team plans to build over 400 units of housing, most of it affordable; 60,000 square feet of retail space; a 30,500-square-foot Youth and Family Center; and 30,750-square-foot recreation facility, likely including a permanent home for JP’s Kelly ice rink.
DYS facility

The plan for the DYS facility fell through because of what Maslan described as an “arcane” technicality. To secure funding to build the facility, Urban Edge had hoped to sign long-term lease with Eliot Human Community Services, the service provider contracted with DYS to run the facility. DYS normally signs two- or three-year contracts with service providers, but the longer term contract would have given Urban Edge guaranteed income enabling it to seek bond financing and tax credits for construction.

Everything was moving forward as of the beginning of 2008, Maslan said. But DYS backed out of the deal early in the year.

He said his understanding was that the deal fell through after DYS learned it could not offer a contract to a service provider if the provider planned to move during the course of the contract. Eliot’s move from its current location to the new building would have violated that rule, he said.

DYS spokesperson Jennifer Kritz told the Gazette the deal had fallen through because Urban Edge wanted a 10-year lease with the service provider, but state rules precluded DYS from offering contracts that run longer than seven years.

But Maslan disputed that explanation. Before the deal fell through, he said, DYS had gotten to the point of issuing a request for refer-rals (RFR) for an eight-year contract. The RFR was issued in October 2007 and Eliot was the sole respondent and won the contract, he said.

“We may have initially asked for 10 years, but we said we could live with eight years,” he said.

“If they said tomorrow they would like to go forward, we would try to make it happen. If [the deal falling apart] is a matter of a misun-derstanding, that would be wonderful,” he said.

Normally DYS contracts run in about three year stints. DYS’s current contract with Eliot runs through 2011, with five one-year options to renew, Kritz said.

Urban Edge is currently working with the Jackson Square Community Advisory Committee—a city-appointed group of community members helping guide the development planning process—to come up with alternatives for the site.

According to CAC interim chair Jennifer Spencer, Urban Edge last month proposed building housing for formerly homeless families on the site. That proposal received “mixed reviews” from the CAC because the location is not ideal. The site is on the back of the lot at 1562 Colum-bus and will be abutted by “the indoor recreation center and two other large buildings.”

The CAC will continue to discuss that proposal and Urban Edge will continue to put forward other proposals in the coming months, Spencer said.

Urban Edge is also considering offering 37 units of housing it proposes to build on the portion of the 1562 Centre St. lot as affordable rental housing instead of affordable home-ownership units, Spencer said.

Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) spokesperson Jessica Shumaker said the changes would require an official notification of project change from Jackson Square Partners once Urban Edge has arrived at a new plan. Following the notification, a public meeting would take place to inform community members about proposed changes to the plans.

It is unclear where financing for other phase one plans stand. As part of the first phase, Mitchell Properties plans to build 103 mixed-income rental apartments and ground floor retail at 225 Centre St. Mitchell did not return Gazette phone calls by press time.

The JPNDC and HSTF plan to build a 30,500 square foot community center next to the Jackson Square T Station. JPNDC spokesperson Chris Ney said the focus for that organization right now is infrastructure funding.

“Right now its infrastructure…Support for infrastructure precedes any of it,” Ney said.

Infrastructure Funding

Last May, Jackson Square Partners received a $3.1 million state grant for streetscape and infrastructure work. But the development team was counting on another $3.6 million in city and state funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, landscaping and traffic signal improvements; the creation of a number of open and green spaces; and utility improvements necessary to power the planned buildings.

Jackson Square Partners did not win funding when they initially applied for those grants in October 2007, and their second application, in March 2008, has not yet been acted upon, Maslan said.

A major portion of the $3.6 million would come in the form of tax credits, which the developers would then sell to corporate buyers to finance the work.

Some of the funding requests have probably not been acted on, Maslan said, because, “the tax credit market is frozen…It’s tight, it’s not that no projects are closing, but not that many deals are closing.”