As part of the redevelopment of The Flower Exchange site in the South End, which will include office space, lab space, accessible open space, ground floor retail, and other uses, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held two Open Houses to solicit feedback from the public about what they would like to see for the 30,000 square feet of community benefit space that the Abbey Group, the developer for the project, must provide.
On May 15, an open house was held in the vacant Flower Exchange building on Albany Street. The 30,000 square feet of community benefit space must be used, as per zoning, for an “existing or start-up commercial use or a not-for profit artistic cultural use,” according to Gerald Autler of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). The Abbey Group must provide this space in exchange for the density bonus that they were granted to build this project, Autler added.
Autler said that the description of what the space must be used for is “not very precise,” but he thinks it’s a good thing because there are lots of different options. “We want input from the neighborhood about what within those basic parameters would be really exciting,” he said.
The open house was mainly for people to come in and fill out a survey of what they would like to see in the space, but Audrey Reny of the Abbey Group and Autler were there to answer any questions people had.
Several South End artists came with concerns about the rising prices of artist space throughout the city, and felt it was important to maintain space for artists in the South End, as the area has been a place where artists have settled.
“Everybody’s excited about the same basic categories,” Autler said, adding that a priority for him is to make sure whatever programming happens in the space serves “as broad of a cross section of the neighborhood as possible.” For example, he said, should it be used as a studio space for artists, it should also allow everyone in the neighborhood to come in and learn how to create art alongside professional artists, as well as offer other opportunities for the community to participate as well.
“Whatever the model ends up being, I think that’s kind of a fundamental principle for me, that this should be something that everybody in the neighborhood, no matter what their income level, no matter what their experience or background or profession should be able to come and utilize [the space],” Autler said.
One resident had concerns about traffic and congestion in the area both during construction and once the project is complete. Autler said that in the community meetings held so far, “there were lots of discussions about this.” He said traffic studies are available for view on the BPDA website, and “we spent a year and a half talking about that with representatives with the neighborhood.”
“We are looking at a redesign of Albany Street that would much better accommodate a wider range of modes (of transportation),” Autler said, “so protected bicycle facilities on both sides, better sidewalks, but also exclusive bus lanes so that would allow for the possibility of more efficient bus service connecting to the red line at Broadway…” to help the new development be better connected to public transportation overall, he said.
Kristen Struebing-Beazley, a 30-year South End resident and visual artist, said that some purposes she would not like to see the space used for are things like health and wellness and social enterprise. “We have a lot of these agencies here,” she said, referring to things like addiction services. “My husband is a surgeon; I’m aware of all the needs we have, but I would rather not see that come into this situation,” she said.
“But I would like whatever cultural activity occurs, which could be mixed arts, [to] be available,” she said. “If I were to put in an independent film theater that had art film, I would give passes to the homeless…” She believes the programming should serve the neighborhood, “but it should be quality.”
Another concern Struebing-Beazley has is recognition of older artists. “I’m an older artist, obviously, and I think…people who worked for many years are not being considered anymore,” she said. She said she would like to see arts interaction—possibly between performing and visual arts—that could be curated by experienced independent curators “who know how to think about that.”
Audrey Reny of the Abbey Group said that over 330 people have filled out the survey so far, and they are still looking for more community feedback about what would be the best use of the space for the neighborhood. The survey can be found on the BPDA website for the project.