City seizes buildings to expand Ferdinand project

Sandra Larson | 12/6/2011, 4:11 p.m.
Action will displace Dudley businessesThe Curtis Block and Waterman buildings on Washington Street in Dudley Square will...
Action will displace Dudley businesses Sandra Larson

The City of Boston is moving to acquire the two remaining buildings adjacent to the old Ferdinand’s Furniture building to make more room for the planned $15 million Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility project, set to break ground in spring 2012.

City officials announced Nov. 30 that the privately-owned Curtis Block and Waterman and Sons buildings at 2304 and 2326 Washington St. will be acquired through a negotiated purchase or using the city’s power of eminent domain. The acquisition means the new facility, which will contain the Boston Public Schools (BPS) administrative offices, can extend to all corners of the triangular block.

 Kairos Shen, chief planner for the City of Boston and director of planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), said that controlling the whole block will allow a better connection between the new building and Dudley Station, more street-facing retail space and a way out of the logistical troubles of constructing around the two buildings.

“As the design progressed, it became clear there were some problems having these buildings under separate ownership,” Shen told the Banner. “Because of the windows in these buildings, we would have had to have a buffer zone [between them and the new construction],” he said. This constrained the new building’s footprint, reducing the available space for ground-floor stores and restaurants.

With the full block, retail space in the new facility can be increased to 15,000 square feet, he said. Design options presented two weeks ago to the Dudley Vision Task Force had included only about 10,000 square feet, causing some concern among Task Force members and local advocates who believe new retail/restaurant opportunities are crucial for a vibrant Dudley Square.

Under eminent domain, the government can acquire property from private owners without their consent for a fair market price. A document provided by the BRA shows the assessed value of the two buildings together as $1.6 million.

While the action adds retail to the new facility, it also displaces existing businesses, among them Manhattan Square dress shop, Simon’s Fish Market, Metro PCS, Performers Act II beauty salon and a veteran’s services office operated by Pine Street Inn.

The businesses have 120 days after the acquisition to leave, and the city will pay their relocation and reestablishment expenses. Shen said the first goal would be to relocate the businesses within Dudley Square, and there is a possibility they could come back into the new building when construction is completed. The facility is slated to open in mid-2014.

The owners of the two buildings could not be reached for comment, but some of the tenants are not happy about being forced to move.

“I’m very upset,” said Kay Kang, owner of Simon’s Fish Market, a fresh fish and takeout shop that opened in the Curtis Block building just two months ago. A “Grand Opening” sign still hangs on the storefront.

On Friday at noon, customers jammed the small shop’s fried fish takeout counter. Late in the afternoon the next day, a dozen or so people were browsing the fresh fish selection.