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City seizes buildings to expand Ferdinand project

Sandra Larson | 12/6/2011, 4:11 p.m.
Action will displace Dudley businesses Sandra Larson

“I want to stay in Dudley. This area needs a fish market,” Kang said. Prior to the recent move, she had operated the fish market for six years a few blocks down the street. The business has two employees in addition to Kang’s family members, she said.

Kang understands that the city plans to pay relocation expenses, but that’s been little comfort in the days since she got the news. “In the middle of the night, I wake up and can’t even sleep,” she said.

She also questions the need to take the buildings.

 “They have a huge spot there,” she said, gesturing in the direction of the Ferdinand building and the wide-open vacant lot around it. “I don’t know why they want this space, too.”

Next door, at Manhattan Square Fashion, owner Cheunok Butler is worried, too. She has operated her special-occasion dress shop in this space for 20 years.

Surrounded by racks of shiny evening gowns, prom dresses and children’s christening and first communion garments, she pondered the store’s future, and her own, with a sober look. “I never thought about moving,” she said. “If I don’t have this business, I don’t know what else I would do.”

BRA representatives came to the shop to tell her about the plan, but Butler sounds unsure about what will happen, and when, and what kind of help she’ll get.

“They said they can help me move ... I don’t know,” she trailed off.

On the other hand, local residents and Dudley area activists who have waited decades for action on the Ferdinand site generally reacted positively.

“I think it will be good for the [new] building,” said Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets and a member of the Dudley Vision Task Force. Nobody in her groups seems to have a problem with the plan, she said. She acknowledged the action puts existing businesses in a tough situation, though.

“The overall end result is a good one,” she said. “[But] what’s good for the businesses there may be a different story, and the city needs to help them.”

Kai Grant, a Roxbury resident who has been following the Ferdinand redevelopment plans and pushing for increased retail space, voiced support for the city’s plan.

“I think it’s a great turn of events,” said Grant, who is a member of the Dudley Square Main Streets board. Regarding the displaced businesses, she predicted they will successfully relocate with the help of the city and Dudley Square Main Streets, and perhaps even reinvent themselves and gain more clients in the process.

Looking at the big picture, Grant envisions not only restaurants and retail stores invigorating Dudley Square, but a new “education innovation district” spurred by the influx of BPS administration offices and the related businesses and research centers that could open nearby.

“I really believe the mayor has the best intentions,” she continued. “Here is a wonderful opportunity to create another district, before he leaves his term. We want our children’s children to see this as an economically thriving district, where they can be employed and do something meaningful. Shame on us if we don’t dig deeper into this opportunity.”