New storefronts on the way for Rozzie Square

May 28, 2010
By

John Ruch

Roslindale Neighbors

ROSLINDALE VILLAGE—New storefront businesses are coming to a key lot facing Adams Park later this year, as a two-story official/commercial building goes up on the former site of a notorious gas station.

Exactly what sorts of businesses is still up in the air, though the marketing will be guided by a new survey by Tufts University planning students. “Family-friendly” businesses and retail stores are among the focal points.

The two-story building is under construction at 4238-4244 Washington St., next to the Roslindale Branch Library. The nearby Social Security Administration offices will move upstairs after the project is complete in late summer or early fall. And one to four new businesses, yet to be signed, will go into the storefronts, according to Jody Burr, executive director of Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS).

“It was a big hole in probably one of the most central…blocks of the whole square,” Burr said of the 18,000-square-foot lot, where the now-demolished gas station was once boarded up by the city for filthy conditions. “The library is kind of alone there, holding up the whole block.”

After a six-month delay and a change in plans—a third floor was removed from the design—the project broke ground in December. The building is the work of the Needham-based Family Realty Trust, where a man who answered the phone this week declined to identify himself to the Gazette and said no one is available to comment.

The same block includes a vacant, historic MBTA electric substation at the corner of Washington Street and Cummins Highway. Proposals for renovating that unusually attractive facility—probably into a high-end restaurant and entertainment venue—recently died, aparently due to concerns about financing in the current economy. [See related article.]

“We can only hope the substation will follow soon,” Burr said. “I like to think of it as the gem on the end of the necklace.”

As for the new building, RVMS was involved in its design and will help market the storefront spaces. A major goal of the design was to “enhance a walkable district,” Burr said. That includes having the building come right up to the sidewalk to encourage foot traffic.

RVMS recently worked with grad students at Tufts University’s Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning on an assessment of Roslindale Village’s strengths and needs. Those findings, which included a survey of district visitors, will inform the marketing of new businesses, Burr said.

The report found a need for more retail stores in general, and holes in the areas of entertainment and family-friendly businesses, Burr said.

“There is a rapidly growing population of young families in Roslindale, and up until recently, there were few businesses that really catered to that population,” she said, citing a “kid-friendly café” as one type of business that might be suitable.

The study also found that the majority of shoppers came to the district to visit retail businesses, even though retail is “the smallest percentage of businesses here,” Burr said, noting Roslindale Village’s reputation as a restaurant destination.

Another interesting finding of the survey: About half of the surveyed shoppers came from outside of the neighborhood—most of them from Jamaica Plain. Burr, herself a JP transplant, said that the finding was no surprise to her.

“Roslindale is certainly what I remember JP being” years ago, she said, referring to the diverse population and growing collection of unique businesses. “There’s a very progressive community activism that roots both communities,” she said.

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