Carrying the momentum forward

Sandra Larson | 3/7/2012, 11:34 a.m.
Mayor Thomas Menino cuts the cake after the March 3 groundbreaking ceremony. (L to R) State Rep. Byron...
Mayor Thomas Menino cuts the cake after the March 3 groundbreaking ceremony. (L to R) State Rep. Byron Rushing, City Councilor Tito Jackson, Menino, pastry chef Julius Johnson, State Rep. Gloria Fox, architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architects. Sandra Larson

Not everyone in the community has been happy with the city’s plans. In a series of Dudley Task Force meetings that started last fall and will continue as the project goes on, questions were repeatedly raised about whether construction jobs and retail leasing opportunities will be adequately publicized to the local community, and whether the right businesses will emerge to create a lively streetscape past 5 p.m.

Some are dissatisfied at the choice of a municipal building rather than housing or a more vibrant commercial use.

Task force member Donovan Walker has frequently pressed city officials and the design and construction teams with sharp questions. On this big day he felt “half-happy,” he said.

“I’m happy the mayor came to show he’s committed,” Walker said after the ceremony. “It was good for us all to be here and feel how big this is, how important it is.”

But he reiterated his insistence that the building include a sit-down restaurant, ideally at rooftop level.

“In order for this to bring economic development, there has to be a mechanism to bring the community together,” he said. “We have to implement a full scale restaurant. We have 60,000 people in Roxbury with no central place to sit down and eat.”

A stone’s throw from the groundbreaking, Manhattan Square Fashion owner Cheunok Butler stood outside her store, watching the police direct traffic as attendees arrived. She was not planning to go to the event.

In late November, the city moved to acquire the two buildings adjacent to the Ferdinand site in order to control the entire triangular block. The action means existing businesses, including Butler’s, will be displaced.

With the city’s help, Butler has since secured another space a few blocks away. So while she was stunned in November after hearing she’d be forced to move her dress store after 20 years in the same space, she can now be philosophical.

“The city’s got to do what they got to do,” she said. “They have the power.”

Next door, Simon’s Fish Market owner Kay Kang is worried. She has been unable to find another nearby space for her takeout and market operation, she said.

She hopes for a space in the new building when it opens in 2014, but has no firm answer on whether that’s possible. The city will help with relocation expenses, but she has no place to go. One option may be to find a smaller space for takeout only, no market. But, she said, “This community needs a fish market. We have a lot of customers.”

No one denies there are still issues to resolve. Jackson, in his speech, reiterated a call for vigilance to ensure local job opportunities, Fox noted the need to provide services for the many people in Dudley struggling with mental health and other problems. The community is bracing for two years in a construction zone.

But for this one day, the balance was tipped steeply toward jubilation, the attention focused on the project’s potential to raise Dudley Square up.

“We have a lot of opportunities here,” Menino said. “A lot of folks said it would never happen. But you folks stayed with it. Let’s carry the momentum we have today forward.”