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Mayor's Ferdinand plan stirs hope for Dudley revitalization

Sandra Larson | 3/8/2011, 6:24 p.m.

“Where and when the Mayor made the statement is important,” he said. “It’s one of his three big speeches per year [along with the State of the City address and a speech to the Chamber of Commerce]. The fact he made Dudley the focus of such an important speech was exciting to me.”

Arroyo also said he wants to ensure that the Boston Residents Jobs Policy, which requires employment of city residents, minorities and women on city construction projects, is fully enforced.

“We’re going to work really hard with the city to make sure they meet or exceed the job ordinance on every check,” he said. “That doesn’t happen by accident — it happens when people stay on it, check with the contractors.”

Rodney Singleton, a professional engineer and Roxbury community activist who serves on several area development committees, is also concerned about compliance with the minority hiring rules.

“I can’t tell you how many people say they’re minority contractors, and have the MBE [Minority Business Enterprise] certification, but can’t report any minorities actually on the site,” he said. “To be fair, in their defense they say they can’t find minorities and women for the jobs. So how do we deal with that? What I want to hear as a citizen advocate is, what are you doing to address that?”

But overall, Singleton and others in the community are pleased with the recently announced plan.

“It’s good news,” Singleton said. “I support it. I think a lot of people think it’s long overdue. I don’t know a soul who thinks the Ferdinand Building should not be developed.”

The only reservation he suggests people might have is that the area needs business, not municipal offices. But he believes that the retail space makes the plan a good compromise, he said.

Kairos Shen, chief planner for the City of Boston and director of planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), explained why this ambitious plan is being launched now.

“There is significance and need for the city to develop in Dudley Square. In the past two years, as the mayor said, the Dudley area has suffered more from the poor economy than other areas.  In spite of the infusion of federal and state monies into the area, trying to deal with the recession, clearly there’s more to be done in this area.”

He cited the mayor’s plan to borrow $115 million as an indication the plan is real and can be achieved. Further, this particular moment in the economy is a good one for launching the project.

“There is time for us to take advantage of a soft construction market and get more ‘bang out of the buck’ by starting this year, before the real estate market goes up,” he said.

The public-private partnership strategy the city has in mind is very unusual, Shen said, and has not been used for city buildings in Boston before. The city will be borrowing money to fund a public project, he explained, but municipal buildings typically do not have retail space built in, a key piece of the Ferdinand plan.

“In the planning process we agreed that this development project has to make Dudley Square more active, more vibrant. Retail is a critical component.” So the role of the private developer will be to manage the retail space as well as to advise on design and construction, he said.

The old Ferdinand building’s historical features will be preserved, Shen said, at least on the exterior, even though the project may cost more because of that goal. He acknowledged that the building has “seen better days” and needs a lot of work.

“We are assuming there will be some premium in keeping the [building’s] character,” he said. “But there is intrinsic value in that character, and everyone involved believes this is a good thing.”