By Seth Daniel
Members of the Abbey Group told the New York Streets Neighborhood Association (NYSNA) that they have been talking with the owners of the property next to the Boston Flower Exchange – site of the potential Exchange South End development – about further development.
The Abbey Group also announced at the NYSNA meeting on April 3 that they will have an open house on the site of the Boston Flower Exchange for the entire community to come and see the initial thoughts for the 5.5 acre Flower Exchange site.
Bill Keravuori, who has been on a whirlwind tour of neighborhood associations this spring, said the Abbey Group has been talking with Jacobson’s – another flower-related wholesaler on 3.5 acres next to the former Boston Flower Exchange, which moved to Chelsea.
“It’s no secret we’re talking to them,” he said. “I’m not sure if he will initially, but our development is going to be right next to it.”
That was the newest news in what has been an exciting month for the Abbey Group, unveiling some initial thoughts to the community first at the South End Forum on March 15. Since that time, Keravuori has been informing neighborhood associations throughout the South End on the attributes of the 1.6 million square foot development, which includes a 1-plus acre Albany Green open space and a 30,000 sq. ft. community civic space the size of Symphony Hall.
“That civic space could be an incredible amenity for the South End,” he said, noting that the entire goal of the project is to extend the South End across Albany Street and create a part of the neighborhood that’s active 18 hours a day. “We want that to be great and this thing that’s a real addition to the South End. We’re looking for a partner for that…The City is inclined to give us free reign as to how we go at this since we have done it before with the Fenway Community Center when we build Veridian.
The possibility of the Jacobson’s site coming into the fold one day only makes the proposal more intriguing, a proposal that has so far garnered very positive reviews throughout the neighborhood. The approach from Exchange South End has also been applauded, introducing the initial plans first to the community, and then filing official plans with the City after that voluntary process ends.
Keravuori told NYSNA that they will hold an Open House on the site at 540 Albany St. on Wednesday, April 26, from 5-7 p.m. Residents are invited there to learn about the plans and to see the vision firsthand for what the Abbey Group wants to do.
He said they will also continue to meet with neighborhood associations and then circle back to re-propose the ideas, and present what they’ve learned, at the May 2 South End Forum meeting. Afterward, they would begin their Project Notification Form (PNF) for the Article 80 process with the City.
He hoped that permitting could be accomplished by the end of the year, and the group hoped to market the property during permitting, with a ground breaking in the second quarter of 2018.
Some neighbors wanted to know if they have started marketing the project yet, and Keravuori said they have not made any really serious salvos to the business community because he wants neighborhood consensus first.
“It is pretty much an as of right project from a zoning and permitting standpoint,” he said. “We have been getting great community feedback. We really like to get consensus from the community before we start talking to businesses and so we can assure the business community the project we market to them is the one what will get built.”
NYSNA President Jamie Curtis said he really wanted to see some innovative architecture, something that will knock the socks off of those driving, walking or biking by the site.
“We are a city full of amazing architects being educated in our schools,” he said. “It’s going to be right on 93. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were lit up in amazing ways and had unbelievable architecture. People would see it and say, ‘I want to be there. This is the last opportunity to develop really amazing ‘Star-chitecture.’”
Keravuori said they do hope to have something signature, and he said they have already been working with students at Suffolk University last fall. He also said they have reached out to General Electric’s Advanced Lighting Technology to propose some ideas to enhance their site in an innovative way.
“There is some state-of-the-art lighting things going on over there you wouldn’t believe,” he said.
One of the most common questions is why there is not residential contemplated for the site. The current configuration is 90 percent lab/office/tech space and 10 percent retail. Keravuori said they aren’t considering residential, and the worry from the community has been that the site will empty out at 5 p.m. and not be an active part of the neighborhood.
Keravuori argues that the civic space and carefully planned retail will seek to accomplish an active space.
“We agree this definitely has to be a day-night location,” he said. “We need to make choices that make sure it is.”
One concern from Ink Block restauranteur Jefferson Macklin was that there might be a saturation of restaurants, and having more restaurants in Exchange may not be a good fit for the community.
“I’m a restauranteur in the neighborhood,” he said. “The easy answer is to say we need restaurants there. Boston doesn’t need more restaurants really. Not to be ‘Woe is me,’ but every building with a crane above it right now is going to have a restaurant on the ground floor.”
Another major concern of the NYSNA was connecting the bike trail to the new Ink Underground park, and also making sure that safe crossings for pedestrians were in place on Albany Street.
“That’s going to be a huge thing for you to propose, community safety on Albany Street,” said Curtis. “That’s been a huge concern for the neighborhood. There has been more than one fatality on that street.”