Slow going on largest Rox. parcel

Eleven years after original P3 designation, land remains bare

Yawu Miller | 2/14/2018, 11:25 a.m.
Elma Lewis Partners and the development team that will jointly own the project, Feldco Development, now say they are just ...
After 11 years of failed development schemes, Parcel P3 remains vacant. Banner photo

When Elma Lewis Partners, LLC was granted development rights to Parcel P-3 in 2007, their plans for a new space for the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists along with commercial and residential space generated enthusiasm in the Roxbury community.

The eight-acre parcel on Tremont Street in Lower Roxbury had been cleared of its housing stock on one end during the BRA’s urban renewal program in the 1960s and on the other during the state’s failed plan to extend Interstate 95 through Roxbury and the South End.

A decade after the development plans were announced, however, the parcel remains covered in weeds, trees and rubbish.

Elma Lewis Partners and the development team that will jointly own the project, Feldco Development, now say they are just months away from beginning site preparation work, but Boston Planning and Development Agency has yet to give its final approval for the project.

“We’re just going through the last few hurdles,” said Feldco Vice President for the Greater Boston region Jeffrey Feldman.

By spring of next year, the project leaders expect to begin construction of the buildings on the site.

The seemingly glacial pace of development on Parcel P-3 stands in stark contrast to other formerly undeveloped sections of the Boston area such as the Seaport District, where a new neighborhood has sprung up from the parking lots and industrial buildings, and Assembly Row in Charlestown and Somerville, where condos, offices and shops now occupy a formerly vacant wasteland.

The city building renaissance, which most recently brought a cinema complex, retail, parking and condos to the South Bay area, has eluded Parcel P-3.

With a Feb. 28 deadline looming, the developers have requested a three-month extension for the project.

Feldman says the team has lined up commitments from tenants for 75 percent of the retail spaces, but acknowledged that many of the prospective tenants had letters of intent, not signed leases.

“In terms of pre-leasing retail, we’re way ahead of the curve,” he said.

But BPDA Deputy Director for Community Economic Development Dana Whiteside said the team will need to show signed leases in order to begin work.

“The preference is to move beyond letters of intent,” he said. “Letters of intent don’t speak to actual agreements.”

After 11 years of extensions, some in the community are questioning whether the project, dubbed Tremont Crossing, will ever break ground.

“We’re getting pretty close to the last extension of the last extension,” said Bruce Bickerstaff, a former member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee. “They haven’t moved a spade of dirt.”

Starts and stops

Elma Lewis Partners, LLC beat out two other development teams in 2007 to secure designation to develop P-3. The LLC includes members of the leadership of the Museum of National Center for Afro-American Artists, founded by the late Elma Lewis. Their aim has been to bring commercial development to the long-vacant parcel that would subsidize the construction and operation of a new museum and cultural center.

The project ran into stiff headwinds with the financial collapse of 2008. While that project stalled, one component, the Whittier Street Health Center, went forward on its own with the development of a new, state-of-the art facility, which was completed in 2012 and remains separate from the Elma Lewis/Feldco development project.