JSP struggles with work schedule, hiring policy

David Taber

225 Centre development gets funds, principal takes new job

JACKSON SQ.—Jackson Square Partners (JSP) is behind schedule on infrastructure work it hopes to get done by the end of the year, representatives from the development team said at a meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) Oct. 12.

The development team recommitted to meeting hiring goals for local residents, women and minorities after presenting a compliance report that indicated it is missing its goals. The developers are trying to ensure that the contractors on the project direct 50 percent of the work hours on the project to local residents; 40 percent to minority workers and 10 percent to women.

That is in line with Boston’s construction jobs hiring policy, and is more ambitious in terms of minority hires. The Boston jobs policy only requires that 25 percent of construction workers be minorities.

Bart Mitchell, of JSP-member for-profit developer Mitchell Properties, announced that major pieces of the financing came through Oct. 11 for a 103-unit mixed-income housing development with ground-floor retail Mitchell Properties is building on the corner of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue. The 225 Centre St. project is slated to break ground in the spring of 2011.

Mitchell, a JP resident, also outlined some musical chairs-like organizational changes for Mitchell Properties: Mitchell, while retaining ownership of Mitchell Properties, has taken a job as a chief operating officer with the Massachusetts-based national non-profit developer Community Builders. Meanwhile, he said, Mitchell Properties is inviting Community Builders to come on as a partner in the 225 Centre St. project. He said that Community Builders’ “deep expertise” in the complex field of tax-credit funding for low-income housing developments would be reassuring to the public agencies issuing those credits.

Low-income housing tax credits are tax credits low-income housing developers can sell to private investors to finance development projects.

The developers involved with JSP—including the non-profits the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and Urban Edge, and the local community organization The Hyde Square Task Force, as well as Mitchell Properties—are working on different construction projects throughout the square and collaborating on public infrastructure and streetscape work in the neighborhood.

Infrastructure work

“Work in Jackson Square is moving ahead slowly,” Andrew Winter, real estate director for the JPNDC, said at the meeting.

Winter attributed the delay to issues that have arisen trying to coordinate with the MBTA on expanding the busway entrance from Columbus Avenue to Jackson Square Station. “This work is complicated. It involves a high level of coordination,” he said. “We are working on the busway while keeping the station open.”

The new, expanded busway will have room for private vehicles to park at Mitchell Properties’s 225 Centre St. building.

Currently, JSP is rushing to get underground utility work that would support 225 Centre and other proposed JSP projects moving by the city’s Nov. 15 seasonal deadline for opening streets, Winter said.

The group still hopes to get the first phase of work done by the end of the year, Winter said.

The scheduled work also includes sidewalk improvements at the intersection of Ritchie Street and Columbus Avenue; pedestrian and bike access improvements to the intersection of Centre and Lamartine Streets; and the construction of a paved walkway connecting Centre Street to Amory Street.

Work was initially intended to include the construction of a planted median on Columbus Avenue, but that was pushed back to a later phase because of budget constraints, Winter told the Gazette in an e-mail.

At the meeting, CAC member Jen Spencer was among those who said they have been surprised by the apparent slow pace of the work. “There has not been a lot of truck movement to bring a toddler to see,” Spencer, a mother of a toddler, said.

Winters advised Spencer that 2011 would bring more large construction equipment to the neighborhood.

Jobs policy

JSP is not quite making the mark for its hiring policy for local, minority and female workers, Winter told the CAC.

As of Oct. 2, contractors and sub-contactors working on the project had worked about 3,600 hours. They were, collectively, below the goal of 50 percent resident workers by close to 10 percent, off the mark for 40 percent minority workers by 1.37 percent and below the goal of 10 percent women workers by 2.67 percent.

Reviewing the report submitted by JSP, Jasmine Watson, a Roxbury carpenter who attended the meeting, noted that the project carpenter, J. Derenzo Company, appears to have hired one woman who worked on the site for seven weeks in July and August, and that the percentage of women workers “dropped off” after that one woman stopped working on the site. She said she did not understand why Derenzo could not keep “one or two women” on during weeks when it had 15 men on site.

“We have raised that with Derenzo,” Winter said. “They need to have female participation if we are going to make this goal.”

He noted the $2 million of work underway “Will enable $30 million [of work] that will last not 20 weeks but 20 months.”

But CAC members said they would like to see a precedent of set JSP holding contractors to the goals before the larger projects start.

“Typically, it is easier to make the numbers on a smaller job than a larger job,” CAC member Dan Cruz said.

Cruz asked whether any minority-owned contractors were involved in the construction.

Winter said that JSP’s contract requires that 25 percent of the dollars going to contractors be directed toward minority-owned businesses. He said at the meeting that he thought electrical sub-contractor Havana Mac was fulfilling that goal, and later confirmed that to the Gazette.

Havana Mac only had one employee on-site for 72 hours in late summer, and that employee was not local, a minority or a female, according to the report.

Hiring the company is taking up a big chunk of the project budget “because they supply all of the lighting and traffic signals,” Winter said in an e-mail to the Gazette. Havana Mac “has committed to putting two people of color on site as work proceeds, one of whom is a woman,” he said in the e-mail.

JSP was scheduled to have a compliance meeting with representatives from J. Derenzo earlier this week. With about half of the current phase of infrastructure work left to go, “Now is a perfect time to…say, ‘You can do this, you have to do this,” Mitchell said at the CAC meeting.

It was suggested at the meeting that JSP start collecting names and contact information for trades-people who walk onto the work sites looking for work. That strategy has been employed with some success at the nearby Melnea Cass Rink, which is currently being renovated, a meeting participant said.

225 Centre

More jobs and construction machinery for toddlers to gawk at got a big boost Oct 11, Mitchell said at the meeting.

Mitchell Properties was approved for $45 million in loans for construction and operations at the proposed 225 Centre St. development, he said.

That approval means that Mitchell Properties is ready to move forward with final designs for the 103-unit mixed-income residential development with ground-floor retail on the corner of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue below the Jackson Square T Station, he said.

And, assuming that other funding sources are secured—itself a process that is aided by the securing of the $45 million—work could begin next spring, he said.

“We are trying to be ready as soon as possible,” he said. “We are planning to have the building permits set by Christmas.”

Despite the changes to its ownership structure, and Mitchell’s new job with Community Builders, Mitchell Properties will still be leading the 225 Centre development, and will be the managing owner of the property when it is completed, he said.

Mitchell said he is not sure whether Mitchell Properties will take on other development projects after it is done with 225 Centre and other projects it is developing, or devote itself to maintaining its state-wide portfolio of properties.

The company remains “as staffed as ever,” he said. “There is a lot of work for Mitchell Properties, but we are probably not going to add anything new to the pipeline.”

Mitchell noted at the meeting that, while he is a member of the group that has day-to-day decision making power for the multi-developer JSP group, Mitchell properties is not, technically a member of the group. JSP is officially made up of the JPNDC, Urban Edge and the Hyde Square Task Force. Mitchell Properties has a contractual agreement with JSP, and Community Builders could become a party to that contract.

CAC members expressed an interest in meeting representatives from Community Builders to discuss that developer’s potential new role in the Jackson Square redevelopment. That will likely happen next month, Mitchell said.

Correction: Because it was provided with inaccurate information, the Gazette incorrectly reported that Havana Mac is a woman-owned, but not minority-owned, business in the print version of this article. The opposite is true.