Elma Lewis development clears key hurdle

Howard Manly | 12/8/2010, 7:14 a.m.
Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts President and CEO Darnell L. Williams (l) applauds as Mayor Thomas M. Menino speaks during a press conference held Friday, April 17, 2009, at Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury. At the press conference, Menino reinstated Elma Lewis Partners LLC as the developers of Parcel 3, a large, long-vacant plot of land in Roxbury. City of Boston Mayor’s Office

The $400 million redevelopment proposal to reshape an 8.2 acre tract of land directly across from the Boston police headquarters received another vote of confidence as a key community group approved Feldco Boston, LLC as the project’s co-developer.

The approval of the Elma Lewis Partners, LLC’s redevelopment project came just under the deadline established under a 2008 extension agreement and assures the Boston Redevelopment Authority enough review time before its scheduled meeting on Jan. 13, 2011.

At that time, the board is expected to grant its approval on Fedco Boston as the project’s official co-developer.

“We’ve made more progress in the last several months than we have had over the last four or five years,” said Brenda McKenzie, the BRA director of economic development. “The project is moving forward and the progress has been tremendous.”

Monday’s night decision by the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, comes on the heels of a similar decision by the Project Review Committee (PRC) which also voted to designate P-3 Partners, LLC, the company comprised of Elma Lewis Partners, LLC and Feldco Boston, LLC.

The $400 million Elma Lewis Partners proposal calls for a mixture of office space, retail, parking and housing on the land that would finance a 58,000 square-foot museum for the National Center of Afro American Artists.

The Whittier Street Health Clinic has already broken ground on its new $35 million, 78,000 square foot facility located nearby at 1290 Tremont St. in Roxbury. Scheduled to open in January 2012, the new facility will enable the center to expand its capacity from 60,000 patient visits to 103,000.

The Whittier project was originally a part of the Elma Lewis proposal but was separated last year in part to fast-track government approvals to meet federal requirements to receive federal stimulus dollars. Whittier was awarded $12 million by the Obama administration, and was one of 49 health centers across the country to receive federal dollars for its care to public housing residents. The Mattapan Community Health Center was also a recipient of stimulus dollars.

 McKenzie said both projects are “a win-win” for the community and that splitting the original project into two helped enable Whittier to receive much needed federal funds.

In the meanwhile, the BRA participated in monthly meetings once the Elma Lewis Partners announced Feldco Boston as its proposed co-developer. Those meetings included the Parcel P-3 Project Review Committee (PRC) and the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, whose members are appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The PRC also recently voted to recommend Feldco.  

McKenzie characterized those recent meetings as critical, pointing out that the community was able to meet and participate in detailed conversations with the project developers.

“The first one was a get-to-know session,” McKenzie said. “Then as we moved along, the meetings got more detailed.”

Two years ago, the BRA decertified the project. Menino responded to community pressure by reinstating Elma Lewis Partners LLC as the developers and extending their designation for an additional 18 months.