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Developing a vision for a new Melnea Cass

Sandra Larson | 11/8/2011, 8:09 p.m.

Two vacant land parcels at the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Washington Street may soon be developed with a mix of housing, retail, community spaces and possibly offices or a sleek hotel.

At a recent public meeting, four development teams presented their visions for the lots known as Parcel 9 and Parcel 10. Approximately 100 people attended the Nov. 3 meeting, hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Parcel 9 lies between Washington Street and Shawmut Avenue on the north side of Melnea Cass Boulevard, next to Jim Rice Field. Parcel 10 is across the street, sharing the block with Tropical Foods (2101 Washington St.) and currently holding a parking lot as well as a vacant expanse of grass.

The Melnea Partners Group presented a “Melnea Hotel and Residences” project for parcel 9. The plan includes a 150-162-unit hotel, a café and lounge and 52 units of mixed-income apartment housing, with 139 underground parking spaces. Ground floor space would include commercial uses such as fitness center, retail and restaurant, as well as a function hall for conferences, weddings or arts and culture festivals.

A hotel would offer “ladder opportunities” for low-skilled workers to rise to higher positions over time, the presenters said. Melnea Partners designers stressed the desire to place a vibrant commercial presence on the corner, but to have the 10-story hotel and apartment building slope down toward the Jim Rice ball field to acknowledge the park’s role in the community.

“Shawmut Green,” a plan for Parcel 9 by Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation and New Atlantic developers, is dominated by housing, with 38 units for purchase and 40 affordable rental units. Ground floors would include “destination” and “community” retail uses and non-profit uses such as an entrepreneurship training center. A large anchor store — perhaps Staples — is part of the vision. Shawmut Green’s 86 parking spaces would all be at surface level.

 “Madison/Tropical” is proposed for Parcel 10 by Madison Park Development in partnership with Tropical Foods, the family-owned grocery store that has occupied this site since 1974. The plan includes a new, larger Tropical Foods store at Melnea Cass and Shawmut Avenue. A total of 66 apartments would be in two buildings: a new 5-story building of mixed-income units, and a 4-story renovation of the old Tropical Foods building for affordable units. The apartment building ground floors would have retail space, and one would also have three upper floors of office space. Parking would include 103 surface spaces and 64 below-ground spaces for the offices and residences.

The largest proposal is “Washington Crossing,” encompassing Parcels 9 and 10 together. The massive Washington Crossing Partners team on hand included architects, engineers, attorneys, historical preservation advisors, and investment and economic development experts.

The Washington Crossing plan includes a new Tropical Foods store as well as offices, retail and 141 apartments. Commercial space would be marketed to educational and academic institutions looking for research and satellite office space. Other possible retail components include a sit-down restaurant and simpler food options such as an ice cream shop and a food court.