The United South End Settlements (USES) has chosen South End developer New Boston Ventures, under Southenders David Goldman and Dennis Kanin, as the preferred buyer for the Harriet Tubman House building at 566 Columbus Ave.
USES Executive Director Maicharia Weir Lytle and New Boston’s Goldman both said they were very excited about working out the deal – which will include a by-right 65-unit residential building with 17 percent affordability on top of subsidized commercial space.
Goldman said New Boston has a long history in the South End carefully restoring and building projects such as The Modern, The Lucas and the Allen Mansion House. He said that care has gone into the planning for their successful bid, and it will go into the execution of the project.
“We started working with leaders and activists in the neighborhood while we worked on our proposal,” he said. “We are very mindful of the history contained at the Harriet Tubman House and all the significance of that building…Our proposal exceeds the City’s requirement for affordable housing. We also will be looking at using 50 percent of the commercial space as affordable commercial space for non-profits to keep a non-profit presence on the site. We will be deeding some of the space back over USES…What we’ve proposed is very, very much of a reflection of what we heard when we were meeting with people in the community.”
The proposal features 65 units of residential with commercial space on the first floor, and it will be done according to zoning on all points, including height, said Goldman.
“We intend to build it according to the existing zoning as of right – which means it will be no higher than 70 feet,” he assured.
As tribute, the new proposed development will be known as Tubman Place.
Both parties are now in the midst of negotiations to work out a purchase and sales agreement that would indicate the price and the other stipulations on the sale.
Weir Lytle said the designation is something they are excited about, noting that they had at least 40 tours of the building by developers and a good list of finalists to choose from.
“We do feel good about the designation,” she said. “We have been going through a very long, 18-month process to evaluate our real estate. Throughout that, we’ve explored all options and feel this is a good thing. We feel very good about New Boston Ventures. Their proposal is in line with the RFP with a significant focus on the community benefit, which is what stood out about them…The community benefit was a very important feature to us…They also have a mix of housing that exceeds the City’s minimum for affordable housing. We were also very interested in that they made a large commitment to using minority capital so the minority community will have a direct financial stake in the project. The team was a very diverse team of people also.”
Said USES Board Chair Julia Johannsen, “After a thorough review of more than nine responses to our RFP, our real estate committee of board members, community members and industry experts recommended New Boston Ventures based on many qualifying factors, notably, their experience building mixed-income residential developments and their well-earned reputation for contributing to the communities in which they build. Their proposal demonstrates a high-level understanding of the community and the diversity within the South End. As a result, the Board of Directors voted to enter into this next phase.”
A very important piece of the agreement includes preserving the mural on the outside of the Tubman House.
“We will look to either re-create or move the existing mural on the building if possible,” said Goldman. “If not, we will photograph it and reproduce it within the community exhibit space in the building.”
Also, there is proposed to be a social enterprise café on the first floor that will be named the ‘Hi Hat’ – a nod to the famous jazz café that once stood on the site.
They also plan to include community benefits to local organizations like IBA, and intend to sit down with Tenants Development Corporation (TDC) to try to work out the affordable component of the development – which exceeds the City’s requirement by 5 percent.
Goldman added that if one includes the affordable commercial space, their affordability requirement goes well above 20 percent.
“Honestly, we want to make this easy for the community and USES,” he said. “I think it’s a very good proposal for the community and I want people to know what we’re doing. I think a lot of people will be relieved.”
The team working on the project for New Boston Ventures includes a great deal of diversity, Weir Lytle and Goldman said.
The development team includes President of the Minority Developers Association Richard Taylor, President of the Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association Beverley Johnson, former head of the Boston Elections Commission Jovita Fontanez, architects Jonathan Garland of J. Garland Enterprises and Nancy Ludwig of Icon Architecture and the South End real estate firm Sprogis & Neale.
“Knowing USES for as long as I have, I can appreciate the difficult decisions that they’ve had to make to secure the future of the organization. I also understand the many different feelings around this sale; however, USES remaining in the South End and continuing its legacy in service to children and families is critical,” said Fontanez.
Weir Lytle said proceeds from the sale would go towards preserving and promising a future of serving families and children in the South End and Lower Roxbury. Another portion would be dedicated to upgrading the 48 Rutland St. campus, and making it into the new Harriet Tubman House.
“Proceeds from the sale will go to ensuring the future of the organization and making certain we continue to serve children and families,” she said. “Part of the proceeds will go towards building the Harriet Tubman House…We could be breaking ground mid- to late-2020.”