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Dudley Square entrepreneurs seek retail opportunities in Ferdinand building

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Dudley Square entrepreneurs seek retail opportunities in Ferdinand building
At a Nov. 6 workshop, BRA Director of Business Development Randi Lathrop (front, in blue) and other city officials talk with entrepreneurs interested in retail space in the new Dudley Square Municipal Building, slated to open in early 2015. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

The Dudley Municipal Center rising on the long-neglected Ferdinand site is already having a dramatic effect on the Dudley Square skyline. When the building opens in 2015 as the new Boston Public Schools headquarters, a new streetscape will also emerge, as retail and restaurant tenants set up shop in 18,500 square feet of first-floor retail space.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is about to issue a Request for Proposals for six retail/restaurant spaces in the new building. Anyone hoping to hang a shingle on one of the storefronts has until Feb. 3 to prepare a proposal laying out the business concept, preliminary design, proposed rent and financing plan.

Jeanette Boswell of Dorchester runs a cleaning business now, but hopes to open a bakery in the new building. Kristen Belton Willis, a Roxbury artist and art teacher, would like to run some carts or kiosks in or around the building to sell the multicultural rag dolls she makes.

Both were at a recent city-hosted workshop held Nov. 6 at the Area B-2 Police Station in Dudley Square to educate interested people about the Request for Proposal process and potential sources of business assistance and financing.

Hair stylist Kyra Hunter met virgin hair company owner Rená Graham at the city’s earlier workshop in October, and the two are now considering a subdivided space for their compatible businesses. They returned on Nov. 6 to soak up more information. Some 80 people from Boston neighborhoods and beyond attended the two retail workshops.

Project consultant Chris Gordon presented information on the available space and the RFP process.

A large “anchor” space lies in the iconic point of the old Ferdinand Building, with windows facing Warren and Washington Streets. “It’s a big space, it’s got great visibility,” Gordon said. At 7,800 square feet, officials said a sit-down restaurant could hold 200–250 people.

Smaller spaces range from 1,800 to 2,300 square feet and could possibly be combined or subdivided. Some will connect to the building’s interior lobby area as well as to the street. Gordon mentioned as example uses bakery, newsstand, hair salon, dry cleaner, or another cafe or restaurant.

Submitted proposals must indicate the amount of rent the applicant is willing to pay, Gordon said, though the selection committee will not automatically favor the highest bidders; other factors will be taken into account. Besides some evidence of a viable financial plan, selection criteria include whether the business fits the mix the community has asked for, is likely to succeed, and is not incompatible with a public building (for instance, no strip joints or liquor stores). Submitted proposals should also include prior business experience and track record.

“Don’t be worried if you’ve never done this before,” said Gordon. “Just tell us what experience you do bring to the table and why you think you can do this.”

No one can say yet exactly what the going rent will be. As a rule of thumb, Gordon said recent market rent estimates indicate $20 per square foot annually, which amounts to a monthly rent of $3,000 for an 1,800-square-foot store. He reminded business hopefuls that they need to factor in start-up expenses of building out, decorating and furnishing their space.

Since the massive public project was announced in 2011, city officials and residents have expressed hope the building would bring added economic activity to Dudley Square and create a lively atmosphere extending into the evening hours. A 2012 retail survey of 1,300 respondents confirmed that local residents want social gathering places, from a sit-down restaurant to sports bar, bowling alley, ice cream shop or cafe with seating and Internet access. Other desired businesses included dry cleaner, clothing outlet store, bookstore and gym or yoga studio.

The city isn’t ruling out national chain stores, Gordon said, but officials have been “very clear” that they do not want the building to be “full of chain stores.” On the other hand, those are the businesses most likely to be able to survive the start-up process and succeed.

“We’d love to see some key tenants that are local businesses, minority businesses — that would be great — and maybe there will be some nationals sprinkled in,” he said. “What it won’t be is 100 percent nationals that push the locals out.”

The Request for Proposal (RFP) should be available on Dec. 3 for pickup at the city’s Property and Construction Management office at 26 Court Street.

Randi Lathrop, the BRA’s director of business development, said a bidders conference Dec. 12 will provide an opportunity for people to ask questions after they’ve looked at the RFP. Tours will be offered, giving those who hope to operate a business in the heart of Dudley Square a glimpse of the new space from the inside.

For more information on location and time for RFP pickup and bidders conference, check for updates on the project website, For more information on small business and loan assistance, contact the Department of Neighborhood Development’s Office of Business Development at 617-635-0293 or view a list of resources at

A number of small business advisory and loan assistance organizations were on hand at the workshops to talk with attendees about preparing a strong proposal and securing the necessary capital.

On her way out Jeanette Boswell, the would-be bakery owner, said the workshop made her more hopeful about her prospects. “I had no idea there would be all these people to help with loans,” she said, clutching an armload of brochures and business cards. “Now I have to get busy.”