Roslindale Neighbors: Substation rebirth on hold

May 15, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH


Illustration Courtesy Urbanics, Inc./Studio Luz Architects
This illustration is an artist’s idea of what Urbanica, Inc.’s proposed restaurant in the former MBTA substation might llook like from the inside.>

ROSLINDALE VILLAGE—The long-awaited rebirth of the century-old MBTA substation in Roslindale Village, a vacant spot in the neighborhood’s core for 40 years, is in for a longer wait.

Last year, three star-studded development teams—two of them including top Boston restaurateurs—put in bids for the substation. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) expected to select a winning developer in January, but did not.

The BRA now intends to request updated financial information from the bidders to make sure their proposals are still feasible, according to spokesperson Jessica Shumaker. The bids came in last fall, just as the global financial meltdown began.

She said the BRA does not want to “choose something and then have it sit around” because of financial problems.

Redevelopments around the city that stalled halfway through due to financial problems, especially in Downtown Crossing, have drawn criticism this year and become an issue in the mayoral race.

“We want to make sure whoever we pick can move ahead as fast as possible,” Shumaker said.

Besides requiring the bidders to submit new financial info, the BRA also intends to allow them to alter their proposals if they wish.

The request for new information has not gone out to the developers yet, Shumaker said. It still needs BRA board approval. There is no specific timeline for seeking that approval.

One of the bidders, Jeff Goodman of Jamaica Plain’s WaterMark Development & Construction, told the Gazette this week that he has not heard anything from the BRA and was curious about it.

“We check in from time to time,” Goodman said. “We’d be very interested in doing [the redevelopment].”

Guessing accurately, Goodman said, “I assume, given the development climate, [BRA officials] expect it would be a very hard project to finance, and they don’t want the black eye of selecting a developer and then have them not be able to get financing.”

Jody Burr, executive director of Roslindale Village Main Street, said her group looks forward to seeing a “cornerstone of the business district” come to life again.

“We are in the dark about the timeline,” she said.

The brick substation was built in 1911 to house electrical equipment for MBTA trolleys that used to run on Washington Street. In recent years, the MBTA cleaned up its polluted interior, and the BRA bought the property.

When the three development teams put in their bids last fall, all of their proposals included the possibility of bringing a JP or South End style of nightlife to Roslindale.

WaterMark’s team includes the founder of the Beehive restaurant in the South End’s Boston Center for the Arts. Another bidder, Urbanica, Inc., has the founder of the South End’s Banq restaurant on its team. The third bidder, Diamond/Sinacori and Hart Development Associates, also proposed a restaurant use.

All three teams also have experience in historic building renovations and adaptations. Those types of projects are often funded through tax credits, a financial market that has been hard-hit in the economic crisis.

David Taber contributed to this article.