By Seth Daniel
After a bit of silence since its whirlwind tour of the South End last spring, the Abbey Group is now preparing to file its Project Notification Form (PNF) on the redevelopment of the Boston Flower Exchange and an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) has been appointed.
The Flower Exchange project has been championed throughout the neighborhood by the Abbey Group’s Bill Keravuori, who lives in the South End and held no fewer than two dozen meetings with community groups, institutions and stakeholders before initiating the official City process. Keravuori laid out a project back then that detailed 1.59 million square feet of development in four buildings that included office/lab space, retail, a blockbuster community/performance space, and an interesting mall-style green space called Albany Green. Since the project is seen as transformative for the Back Streets neighborhood, and likely for the entire neighborhood, Keravuori unveiled the early thinking locally to help inform the official process.
Now, officialdom has started.
The newly appointed IAG held its initial organizational meeting on Thursday, Sept. 7, and though many were not able to make it, the meeting did break the ice in the process. Those on the IAG are:
- Father Kevin O’Leary, Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
- Caroline Foscato, South End Soccer.
- Stephen Fox, South End Forum.
- Vadim Kuksin, Blackstone/Franklin Square Development Committee.
- Eric Huang, past president Blackstone/Franklin Square.
- Christina Farrell, Washington Gateway Main Street Board.
- Jonathan Berk, principal of urban planning/real estate firm.
- Kristin Phelan, president of KP Strategies.
- Valeda Britton, Boston University medical campus.
- Sue Sullivan, Newmarket Business Association.
- Bill Jacobson, Jacobson Floral owner.
- Mark Haley, Above and Beyond Catering (nearby small business).
- Rafael Medina, IBA.
- Mary Bertin, Harrison Avenue resident, former board member of Fenway CDC.
The Abbey Group filed the formality Letter of Intent (LOI) in June, with not many details included – as is standard.
A spokesman for the Abbey Group said this week they don’t have an exact time frame for the PNF. However, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Project Manager Peter Auger told the IAG that the filing could be next week.
He has also indicated he would like to have a broad, first public meeting as early as Sept. 19.
Several members of the IAG are excited to start the work and the community meetings. However, at least two members said the official process may be a little anti-climactic since a broad swath of the community has already seen one or more presentations during the spring.
“I’m glad to see that the Abbey Group has been out in front of the community prior to submitting any formal plans to the BPDA,” said Kuksin. “I’m glad to see that their proposal is primarily for office/lab space with the addition of some ground floor retail as opposed to another residential development. To be a true 18-hour neighborhood the area needs more activity during the day and office/lab activity would certainly promote that. I believe it will also help many of the local businesses during the day, as the foot traffic at that time is generally pretty quiet in the South End.”
Kuksin added that the major concerns he’s heard in and around the Blackstone/Franklin area – which is the host neighborhood association – are about traffic and parking for the estimated 5,000 employees slated to be there after the full build out.
“Personally, I am most concerned that the current public transportation infrastructure is not good enough to support the influx of people that this project will bring and will deter large companies from moving to their employees to this location,” he said. “I hope that the Abbey Group, the City of Boston, and the MBTA can work together to provide sufficient resources to make this project viable because ultimately I think it can be a great one for the area.”
Fox – who has been a big supporter of the Abbey Group’s community-first approach – said he feels much of the official process will deal with refinements rather than wholesale changes.
“Because Abbey did extensive outreach to the community before formally filing, even given the size and impact of this development, I think the IAG process will largely reflect refinements to plans and options already discussed,” he said. “I know that the South End community is super-concerned about the traffic impact of the project and the IAG will need to make sure that the traffic and parking component is managed more tightly and comprehensively than probably any other South End project in recent decades.”
The project has been dubbed Exchange South End.