The Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association met virtually for a wide-ranging general meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17, that included news that the group had received special recognition from the Boston Police Department; an update on the intended demolition of the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts; the MBTA’s plans to cut back service, which includes the proposed elimination of its 43 bus line; and an appearance by the city’s newly named liaison to the South End and Bay Village, among other agenda items.
Captain Steven Sweeney of the BPD’s District 4 was on hand to congratulate both the BFSNA as the 2020 Top Crime Watch Group of the Year in the South End/Back Bay/Fenway area, as well as Jonathan Alves, the group’s vice president, who was recognized as the district’s Crime Fighter of the Year.
Both accolades were awarded to their respective recipients during a small ceremony about six weeks ago, he said, after the event was postponed from August.
With the holidays fast approaching, Captain Sweeney underscored the spike in car breaks and package thefts that historically impacts the neighborhood at this time of the year, adding that he had recently spoke with a delivery driver in Rutland Square who said that around 20 packages had recently been pilfered from around the neighborhood.
A suspect was apprehended in connection with the package thefts, he added, but wasn’t arrested because the individual apparently suffers from mental health and/or substance abuse issues, and will instead be diverted to treatment.
Also, numerous bike thefts left in back alleys and on stoops have recently been reported stolen in the neighborhood, although on the upside, Captain Sweeney advised victims to report the crimes as police have been successful in recovering some stolen bikes.
While Captain Sweeney said a much greater sum of money was lost in the area to bike thefts than to bank robberies, he reported that a recent bank robbery at on Boylston Street resulted in the arrest of a suspect he described as a “serial bank robber” and a “career criminal.”
“But that was the first bank robbery we’ve had in the district in a while, compared with hundreds of bikes stolen,” he added.
Discussions are also now underway with City Hall to install 42 cameras in the neighborhood to assist police in traffic enforcement and “more serious” matters, which, Captain Sweeney said, “seems like a dream from five or 10 years ago [that] is finally coming true.”
In another matter, Dr. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of IBA (Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción) – the Boston nonprofit that purchased the one-time German church at 85 West Newton St. in the ‘80s before converting into the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts – said they had applied to the city’s Inspectional Services Department for demolition work and expect to hear back any day now, but in any case, it wouldn’t commence until Monday, Nov. 30, at the earliest.
“We will notify neighbors once we know,” she added.
This first phase of the project is expected to last about a week, Dr. Calderón-Rosado said, while a second phase that would last about five months would entail the removal of all debris from the site.
Construction on the new building, which would accommodate all the uses of the existing Arts Center (e.g. performances, art exhibits and community gatherings), as well as create new office space for IBA staff, wouldn’t commence until 2022 at the earliest, Dr. Calderón-Rosado said, since it’s estimated to take about a year to complete fundraising, design and permitting.
Dr. Calderón-Rosado encouraged anyone with questions or concerns to email them to [email protected]
Matters then turned to the future of the MBTA, which has launched its Forging Ahead initiative that proposes changes to service in response to the T’s dwindling ridership, including the proposed elimination of the 43 bus line.
Dan Mueller, community liaison for the MBTA, said the average weekday ridership on the T has fallen to 330,000 from 1.2 million at this time last year, so in response, the new initiative is proposing 5 percent cuts on its “essential” lines and a 20-percent reduction on “nonessential” lines (which includes the 43), with the changes likely going into effect next May or June.
Mueller encouraged those in attendance to provide testimonial during a virtual meeting on the proposal scheduled for Dec. 2, as well as to submit their feedback to the T before the comment period ends on Dec. 4; visit https://www.mbta.com/forging-ahead for more information.
Meanwhile, Kim Crucioli, Mayor Martin Walsh’s new neighborhood liaison to the South End and Bay Village was in attendance for her first BFSNA meeting.
Crucioli, a recent Suffolk University graduate, as well as a newcomer to public service, is replacing Faisa Sharif, who was recently promoted to Deputy Director of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
And one day after cutting the ribbon its new Albany Street facility, Dr. Robyn Riseberg was on hand to introduce Boston Community Pediatrics – the state’s first-ever nonprofit private pediatric practice.
The practice will offer exceptional pediatric care primarily to patients with Mass Health, she added, as well as provide “integrated mental-health services.”
Boston Community Pediatrics will also offer daily testing for COVID-19 beginning this week, said Dr. Riseberg, who encouraged to interested parties to call 617-934-6009 to set up an appointment.
In another agenda item, Manny Lopes, CEO of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), discussed the healthcare provider’s recent merger with the South End Community Health Center (SECHC).
The SECHC had been struggling to find a partner for many years, Lopes said, and since it’s now 51 years old while the EBNHC just recently hit the half-century mark, “We jumped at the opportunity to keep it in the Community Health Center family.”
Today, the combined Health Center serves 20,000 patients in the South End, he added, and 110,000 patients in all.
The South End Community Health Center/East Boston Community Health Center was also awarded the city’s contract for COVID testing and currently administers about 5,000 tests each day, including at the Blackstone School. (Call 617-568-4500 or visit EBNHG.org for more information or to schedule an appointment.)
Meanwhile, in response to the ongoing pandemic, the BFSNA has cancelled its annual holiday tree-and-wreath sale, said David Stone, the group’s president, and instead are donating wreaths to businesses that have supported the effort in years past.
“Obviously, we’ll be back in full force next year,” he added.
And while the BFSNA doesn’t historically hold meetings in the month of December, Stone suggested that the group convene again virtually next month due to a mounting backlog of agenda items.