Bella Luna/Milky Way co-owner tapped for BRA board

A co-owner of a landmark Jamaica Plain restaurant and nightclub has been nominated by Mayor Martin Walsh to serve on the Boston Redevelopment board of directors.

Carol Downs co-founded the Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge, now based in The Brewery complex on Amory Street, 20 years ago.

“It is my goal to bring a neighborhood perspective to the BRA Board” and promote “development without displacement,” Downs told the Gazette.

Downs and John Hancock Financial Services executive Priscilla Rojas were nominated to fill two longtime BRA board members who are retiring as Walsh continues a housecleaning of the economic development and planning agency. Downs would serve as the board’s treasurer. She and Rojas must be confirmed by the Boston City Council.

“As change continues at the BRA, I’m excited for the new perspectives that Priscilla and Carol will bring to the table,” Walsh said in a written statement. “I’m confident that their diverse backgrounds in business and development will benefit our city as we move forward.”

“I am very honored to be nominated to the Boston Redevelopment Authority Board by Mayor Walsh at this time of great change in Boston,” Downs said in an email to the Gazette. “It is my goal to bring a neighborhood perspective to the BRA Board.”

The five-member board reviews and votes on all major BRA decisions. Four members are appointed by the mayor and one by the governor.

Walsh’s first appointment to the BRA board, made last year, was JP resident Ted Landsmark, the president emeritus of the Boston Architectural College.

Downs said she met Walsh through her longtime service as a trustee at her children’s school, the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. She became an early supporter of his 2013 campaign.

“We share a collaborative work style, a desire to embrace and foster innovation, and a deep commitment to the City of Boston,” Downs said of the mayor.

In 1993, Downs was among four owners—along with Kathie Mainzer, Charlie Rose and Pierre Apollon—who opened the Bella Luna Restaurant in Hyde Square. It expanded with the Milky Way club in 1999.

All four were veteran community activists. Bella Luna and the Milky Way quickly became not only a key spot in Jamaica Plain’s cultural life, but also a hotspot for community organizing and political events.

The business also became a harbinger of the area’s gentrification. In 2008, the owners complained of being victims of their own success as they were forced out by a massive rent hike. The business moved in 2009—with an extraordinary neighborhood parade between the old and new spots—and has thrived at The Brewery.

That experience informs Downs’ opinions about the struggles of working people and small businesses to stay in Boston—and her praise for Walsh’s plans to help them.

“Houses are sold and tenants forced to move because they cannot afford the new owners’ rent,” Downs said. “Small-business owners cannot pay the new terms offered to them at the end of their leases so they have to re-locate or close. Immigrant communities which have developed over decades are being threatened by this displacement.”

If Downs joins the BRA board, she would serve at a time when Walsh has called for the city’s first master plan in decades and a new housing plan as well. Walsh also is leading an extensive reform of the BRA, which has long faced controversies over secrecy, unpredictable review processes and other problems.

“There is great opportunity during this time of scrutiny and reform at the BRA to think creatively and come up with fresh ideas,” Downs said.

“Boston’s neighborhoods need and deserve a Boston Redevelopment Authority that is well-managed, fully staffed and mission-driven,” she said. “Boston’s neighborhoods need development without displacement. I look forward to working with Mayor Walsh and the BRA Board and staff to achieve these goals.”

Carol Downs. (Courtesy Photo)

Carol Downs. (Courtesy Photo)

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