Community space plans revised

July 10, 2009
By

DAVID TABER


Courtsey Mitchell Properties LLC/Jackson Square Partners Infrastructure impovements are slated to start soon inJackson Square as part of Jackson Square Partners’ multi-phase redevelopment of nearly 10 acres of land.

JACKSON SQ.—While the economic downturn has stalled plans for a new Youth and Families Center—one project in a major neighborhood rede-velopment effort—Jackson Square Partners (JSP) is planning alternatives for providing services the center would have offered.

Proposals for providing those services were detailed in a recent press release that elaborates on comments from the developers first reported previously in the Gazette.

The release also floats a new proposal to “accelerate” a controversial plan to build a 36,000-square-foot indoor recreation center on Columbus Avenue.

The Youth and Family Center and the recreation center are both part of an ambitious neighborhood redevelopment plan that would also see hundreds of units of market-rate and affordable housing and over 90,000 square feet of re-tail built on about 10 acres of mostly publicly-owned land in the square.

JSP, the group undertaking the redevelopment, is made up of four partner organizations. Two of them, the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a community organization, and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), a non-profit community development corporation, had planned to build a 30,000-square-foot Youth and Family Center on Columbus Avenue.

As the Gazette previously reported, the two partners were concerned that it would be tough in the current economic climate to secure financing for that $13 million project.

HSTF now plans to expand its youth programming at the Cheverus Building, a site it already occupies in a for-mer school building on the former campus of the Blessed Sacrament church in Hyde Square.

The Blessed Sacrament campus is currently being redeveloped by the JPNDC.

HSTF now runs some programs out of the Cheverus building. It will cost about $5 million for a full conversion of the 16,000-square-foot building “so that it can accommodate a growing array of…civic engagement, community organizing, arts…mentoring, college prep, entrepreneurial, health and recreation programs,” the press release says.

It is unclear where financing for the renovation project would come from. JSP did not return Gazette calls by press time.

As the Gazette previously reported, Urban Edge, another local CDC and JSP partner, has had a hard time coming up with a viable plan for the land it owns on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street.

According to the recent press release, it is exploring converting the first two floors of the Webb Building at 1542 Columbus Ave. “into program space that can accommodate some of the adult activities originally planned for the Youth and Family Center.”

Some of that space is currently being used for first-time home-buyer training and financial education and support programs. It is also serving as a temporary home for a job placement and training program being run by the Lena Park Community Development Corporation.

JPNDC also plans to explore “options for providing space for adult or youth programs in a mixed-use residen-tial building it is planning for 270 Centre St.—the corner of Centre, Wise and Lamartine Streets. That project is scheduled for completion in “late 2010 or early 2011.” JPNDC is undertaking that project independent of JSP’s development process.

Recreation facility

The press release says that JSP is “advocating for the appropriation of $5.69 million authorized last summer in a state environmental bond bill for the construction of an “indoor active recreation facility.” It also says the developers are considering moving the facility to the corner of Columbus and Ritchie Streets

The recreation facility is an Urban Edge project that has been controversial in the past. Urban Edge’s plans for the facility include building a new permanent home for the Kelly ice rink, a skating rink that has been op-erating at a temporary site on the Southwest Corridor near the Stony Brook Orange Line T Station since 1999.

Moving the rink to Jackson has been opposed by some who note that there is another inactive ice rink—the Mel-nea Cass Rink—less than a half a mile away in Roxbury. Resources should be invested in renovating and reopening that rink, some say.

The $5.69 million was secured in the bond bill by then-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. She also secured $4.4 million in the bill for the renovation of the Cass.

At the time, Urban Edge President Mossik Hacobian told the Gazette “Jackson Square Partners has been commit-ted to proceeding with development in a way that is mindful of both the Cass and the Kelly.”

He said he could see the Cass redeveloped as a rollerskating rink with a pool and that the two facilities, along with other area improvements could contribute to a “campus of programmed facilities for recreation, educa-tion and other services.”

The recent press release says “JSP will present these potential changes in greater detail at upcoming meet-ings” of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

Along with JPNDC, HSTF, and Urban Edge, Mitchell Properties, a for-profit developer, is the fourth JSP part-ner. The developers are each working on their own development projects, but the projects are being reviewed by the city and community in concert, and the developers are collaborating on major public infrastructure and streetscape improvements in the area.

That work is scheduled to begin early next year, as is the construction of the first mixed-use residen-tial/commercial development being built by Mitchell Properties.

Media

The Gazette has been banned from Jackson Square CAC meetings since April 23. Shortly after that, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which convened the CAC to seek community input on the redevelopment project, said it has a policy of not attending meetings that are not open to the public, including the press.

BRA Director of Economic Development Brenda McKenzie—a senior staffer who coordinates the agency’s community processes throughout the city—did attend one CAC meeting on May 26 to discuss the CAC’s decision to ban the me-dia. The Gazette was not made aware of that meeting until after it happened

The Gazette was not allowed at, and the BRA did not attend, the CAC’s June 2 meeting. The CAC voted there to allow the media to attend its meetings, but also ban the Gazette from its July 2 meeting, according to meeting minutes.

In a June 30 e-mail to the Gazette, the BRA’s Jackson Square project manager, Rodney Sinclair, confirmed that the BRA would not attend the July 2 CAC meeting because it was not open to the full public. JSP staff members decided not to attend, according to HSTF Deputy Director Jesús Gerena, for the same reason.

According to the June 2 minutes, the Gazette and other media will be allowed to attend future Jackson Square CAC meetings.

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