By Seth Daniel
In a nod to community-first thinking in his home neighborhood, the Abbey Group’s Bill Keravuori appeared at the South End Forum on Tuesday night, Jan. 3, to begin what was described as the first of many prolonged conversations about how his forthcoming development at the sprawling former Boston Flower Exchange site will effect the larger South End community.
For years, residents of the South End have complained that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) takes large projects in piecemeal fashion – only discussing one project at a time as if it were in a vacuum, seemingly to a person ignoring everything outside the project boundaries.
That has been one of the criticisms of the BPDA Article 80 Large Project Review, and in the case of the Flower Exchange, Keravuori – a managing partner at Abbey – said his company would like to participate in something more than just the statutory requirements when planning for the future of the project.
“We are just in the beginning phases of planning for this,” he told the Forum. “I actually just talked to Brian Golden (of the BPDA) to set up our first meeting. We are very excited about the project and putting together a development team. The first step is to have a conversation with the BPDA to understand the frameworks…We have some interesting ideas I’m not yet prepared to talk about.”
He said they have closed on the property and the Flower tenants will be leaving, and Abbey Group will begin taking action on their plans in January, and he expected that the project would be an evolving thing as time goes on.
“We’re not going to the BRA with a fully finished project and we don’t think the conversation with the neighborhood is going to be a presentation of a done deal,” he said. “Someone has to go first. It’s nice to know what the City is thinking. The neighborhood in this case has already had a lot to say because the zoning is recent zoning.”
Keravuori is a Southender and is raising his family in the neighborhood. He is the co-owner with his wife of the Beehive Restaurant on Tremont Street. He has also worked for some time with the Abbey Group and their development of properties in the Fenway and Downtown Crossing. One of their most memorable projects was redeveloping the Landmark Center in the Fenway.
They have since continued to concentrate on the Fenway, and now, Downtown Crossing.
“We get into a neighborhood like Fenway and we stay and become investors,” he said. “Now, we want to do that in the South End. We’re not going anywhere…The things that are important to you as neighbors and residents are important to me. I have a family here and am raising them here. I want it to be a great neighborhood and a great project. I will be around. You’ll probably see me walking my dog.”
Moderator Steve Fox said he had secured commitments from Keravuori to continue meeting with the Forum and other Southenders on the larger context of the Boston Flower Exchange project.
“Bill has committed that he wants to go beyond the IAG Statutory process on this project and enter an engagement process with the entire South End community,” said Fox.
Fox has long said, along with other Forum members, that there needs to be contextual discussion about the overall area with neighbors before zeroing in on the specific Article 80 review process.
“I really see the Flower Exchange as being the test case for this kind of engagement,” he said.
Keravuori didn’t share any specifics about the projects, he did share last summer to the City Council that they hoped to develop a retail and biotech campus on the site – with maybe some residential, but not a great amount.
The Flower Exchange, meanwhile, has announced that it is moving to Chelsea near the New England Produce Center and will be called the New England Flower Market. The Exchange has leased a vacant warehouse building from Chelsea developer Anthony Cassano for 15 years.
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the Sun that City is glad to host the new Flower Exchange and saw it as a good fit for their industrial/produce district.