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City seeks restaurateur tenant for prime Dudley real estate

Sandra Larson | 8/23/2017, 10:58 a.m.
The city of Boston is once again seeking a full-service restaurant tenant for the large vacant space at the front ...
John Barros, the city of Boston’s chief of economic development, and BPS Chief of Staff Rob Consalvo in the vacant 7,800-square-foot space at the front of the Bolling Building. With a new request for proposals, the city hopes to find a viable restaurant tenant for the site. Photo by Sandra Larson

The city of Boston once again is seeking a full-service restaurant tenant for the large vacant space at the front of the Bruce C. Bolling Building in the heart of Dudley Square.

John Barros shows the vacant 7,800-square-foot space at the front of the Bolling Building and discusses the city’s and the community’s desire to see a full-service restaurant there.

John Barros shows the vacant 7,800-square-foot space at the front of the Bolling Building and discusses the city’s and the community’s desire to see a full-service restaurant there.

Outside the window-lined ground-floor space, a wide sidewalk area could accommodate outdoor seating. The city and community have long sought uses for the space that would enliven Dudley Square beyond daytime business hours.

Outside the window-lined ground-floor space, a wide sidewalk area could accommodate outdoor seating. The city and community have long sought uses for the space that would enliven Dudley Square beyond daytime business hours.

Dudley Dough and Gallery Eye Care are two of the businesses occupying the Bolling Building’s smaller storefronts. Customer foot traffic in Dudley Square still lags outside weekday business hours.

Dudley Dough and Gallery Eye Care are two of the businesses occupying the Bolling Building’s smaller storefronts. Customer foot traffic in Dudley Square still lags outside weekday business hours.

On the Web

City of Boston RFP announcement: http://bit.ly/2ijC90S

The window-lined site at the iconic “point” of the former Ferdinand’s furniture store has sat empty since the $115-million city-developed building opened in 2015, serving as the headquarters for the Boston Public Schools.

Finding the right restaurateur-tenant for the prominent location is critical to an enlivened Dudley Square, say experts and community stakeholders. Its two-year vacancy underscores the challenges in bringing new economic vitality to a square that has served as a commercial hub for a largely low-income neighborhood.

The Bolling Building’s street-facing retail spaces were intended to inject commerce and evening social activity into the area around Dudley Station, which in the past was a bustling retail center and now sees some 35,000 transit users daily.

All five smaller ground-floor commercial sites were filled in 2015, by Gallery Eye Care, Final Touch boutique and three casual eateries — Dudley Dough, Dudley Cafe and Tasty Burger — but no viable proposals emerged for the prime front space, which had been designed to accommodate the community’s desire for a local sit-down dining option.

“The big challenge was the capital and experience required to build out the space fully,” said John Barros, the city’s economic development chief, during a recent press tour of the 7,800-square-foot space. Restaurateurs who responded to the initial request for proposals (RFP) in 2013 estimated the upfront costs would be $700,000 to $1.8 million, depending on the proposed kitchen size and other factors, he said.

Now, the city is trying again. A new RFP was released this month with a deadline of Sept. 27, and Barros believes someone will step up with a proposal that can succeed.

With the municipal building now up and running — along with other large mixed-use developments taking shape in its vicinity and the entry of new restaurants such as Suya Joint — opening a restaurant in this flagship space is viewed as less risky.

“That’s why we haven’t divided it up,” Barros said. “Some people have suggested alternative uses, but ... we really want to give the full-service restaurant [idea] a full chance.”

Documented community desire

Throughout the lengthy series of public meetings convened during the municipal building’s design and construction phases, residents repeatedly voiced the need for a local restaurant with sit-down table service.

“There has to be a mechanism to bring the community together. We have to implement a full-scale restaurant,” Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force member Donovan Walker told the Banner at the spring 2012 groundbreaking for the new building, summing up the community’s oft-stated desire. “We have 60,000 people in Roxbury with no central place to sit down and eat.”

The city commissioned a survey in 2012 to gauge what Dudley area residents, employees and commuters wanted to see added to the neighborhood mix. A sit-down restaurant and live music lounge topped the list, along with other uses that would encourage social gathering and remain open in the evening, such as a coffee shop, bakery and bowling alley.