No bidders on MBTA parcel

The MBTA came up empty for the second time in its efforts to unload a surplus parcel south of the Forest Hills T Station on Hyde Park Avenue when a July 20 bid deadline came and went with no takers.

It is was one of a handful of large parcels that the T has been trying to sell, with limited success, since 2009, following a multi-year community planning process.

“No bids were received,” MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo told the Gazette in an email. “The real estate department is discussing it,” he said, when asked what the MBTA plans to do next.

The MBTA previously put the land out for bid in 2009, in the midst of the economic downturn. It did not receive any bids in that round, either. This time, it reduced its asking price from $1.65 million to $1.55 million.

Richard Thal, executive director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), told the Gazette that the JPNDC had looked into making an offer on the lot this time around, but decided to pass for now. The price was not a major factor, he said.

The MBTA’s Invitation to Bid (ITB) on the parcel was based on community guidelines developed in an area-wide, multi-year, Boston Redevelopment Authority-led (BRA) process known as the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII). The lot, known as Parcel U in the FHII, is located south of Ukraine Way on Hyde Park Avenue.

Parcel U was one of four Forest Hills-area lots covered in the FHII that the MBTA tried to sell in 2009. At that time, it sold two small lots—Parcels V and W—to local developer WCI Corp. WCI plans to build a office building and a Harvest Co-op Market, on those parcels which flank Washington Street south of the station on the Arboretum side.

The MBTA also recently sought what Pesaturo described as “a Request for Expressions of Interest” in leasing the Forest Hills parking lot directly south of the station—known as Parcel S.

Pesaturo did not respond to Gazette questions about whether developers expressed interest in that lot by a June 1 deadline, but said there are currently no plans to issue an Invitation to Bid for that lot.

As part of the FHII, the MBTA said it was willing to lease the lot for development if no parking was eliminated. FHII guidelines for that lot call for Parcel S to be a neighborhood center prominently featuring a large plaza.

The guidelines for Pacel U call for 120 housing units, and for 50 percent of the housing developed to be affordable. They also call for major commercial development on the parcel.

The JPNDC—a nonprofit developer that specializes in affordable housing and neighborhood commercial development—had “discussions with potential [for-profit] development partners” about teaming up to make an offer, Thal said. But financing for both market-rate and affordable residential development projects is tough right now, he said.

“The economics of market rate housing are uncertain at this point,” he said. And, on the affordable side, “There is high demand for affordable housing, but there is a backlog of projects going through the public funding process.”

The MBTA also “had a very aggressive timeline for acquisition,” where they were looking for a buyer to purchase the property “within a couple of months,” Thal said. In other development deals the JPNDC is involved with, including multiple projects in Jackson Square, “money isn’t paid out until we have a construction closing.”

That means the developer can work on financing the land purchase as part of the overall development-financing package, and does not have to actually buy it until construction is set to start, he said.

And, Thal noted, a lot of change is coming to the Forest Hills area in the coming years. The nearby Casey Overpass is set to be demolished in 2013, and it is unclear whether it will be replaced with another bridge or a new at-grade roadway. Also, depending on federal grant funding, a major redesign of the Arborway Yard bus facility near the station could begin soon.

“There is a general swirl of activity with uncertain timelines” that could complicate development, Thal said.

Under better circumstances, Thal said, he expects both for-profit and nonprofit developers would be interested in the site. “There are some good quality for-profit developers who do affordable housing,” he said.

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