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Hotel, apartments, retail coming to Melnea Cass

Sandra Larson | 1/31/2012, 6:41 p.m.
Parcel 9, seen here from Washington Street. A proposal to build a modern hotel on this lot received a vote of approval this week from the Project Review Committee. Sandra Larson

The Project Review Committee for the development of two land parcels at Melnea Cass Boulevard and Washington Street endorsed bold change for Roxbury this week.

Four development teams have been vying since July for a chance to transform the long-vacant lots known as Parcel 9, next to Jim Rice field on the north side of Melnea Cass, and Parcel 10, across the street next to Tropical Foods.

On Jan. 30, the 12-member committee voted unanimously to recommend “Melnea Hotel and Residences” for Parcel 9. The plan by Urbanica Design + Development features a 150—162-unit hotel with a modern design, a jazz club and 52 apartments. The ground floor will have commercial uses such as a fitness center and a function hall for conferences, weddings or arts events.

For Parcel 10, another unanimous decision went to “Madison/Tropical.” Madison Park Development Corporation and Tropical Foods International plan a new, larger Tropical Foods store as well as 66 apartments in a new 5-story building and a 4-story renovation of the old Tropical Foods building. Apartment building ground floors will have retail space; one will also hold upper-floor offices.

“We listened to the community,” said PRC co-chair Kevin Cherry after the meeting, held at the Dudley Library. Before the vote, he had named some of the committee’s priorities: potential wealth generation for the local community, commitment to local and minority hiring, more market rate housing and an ability to get started within 12 months of designation.

At the proposal presentations last fall, Kamran Zahedi, Urbanica’s president, had made the case that Roxbury needed something different.

“Roxbury does not want to be an island for all affordable housing,” he said. “The area needs jobs, market rate housing and places to go.”

His group said the hotel would offer “ladder opportunities” for low-skilled workers to rise to higher positions over time; the designers stressed their 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.

Zahedi said he came into the Jan. 30 meeting with “no notion” of how the vote would go. “I’m very pleased that all 12 members voted for us,” he said, as people surrounded him to offer congratulations.

Russ Tanner, director of real estate for Madison Park Development Corporation, was all smiles. “I’m thrilled to have a unanimous recommendation,” he said. “It’s a real vote of confidence.” He predicted that the first new building on Parcel 10, the new Tropical Foods store, could be finished by the end of the year.

One proposal not chosen was “Shawmut Green,” presented by Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation and New Atlantic Developers. David Price, Nuestra’s executive director, had argued for more affordable housing, including home ownership. After the vote, Price remained convinced of his approach.

“I don’t agree there’s too much affordable housing in Roxbury,” he said. “Affordable means not paying more than one-third of your income for housing. Right now more than half the people in Roxbury are paying more than that.”

The PRC will formally recommend the two proposals to the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee on Feb. 6. If the RSMPOC approves, the proposals will be go to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for approval.

“This will be a huge economic engine for the community,” said co-chair Jorge Martinez, who said he “can’t wait” for the development to begin.

Both Martinez and Cherry seemed genuinely surprised but pleased that the votes were unanimous. “That speaks to the committee really doing the work,” said Cherry.