The United South End Settlements (USES) and New Boston Ventures passed papers recently to close on the sale of Tubman House at 566 Columbus Ave. – paving the way for the re-development of the marquee property.
The sale went through for $13.25 million recently, which was a healthy amount that will keep USES solvent for years to come, but also was not as much as they had believed they would get due to the fact that the process took so much longer than anticipated, USES officials said.
“It was a big milestone and long-anticipated,” said USES Director Maicharia Weir-Lytle. “The sale took longer than was anticipated so it ended up being about 13 months longer than anticipated. Our tenants continued to stay and because of that we had more expenses incurred because of the tenants. Because of that the proceeds were less than we expected – that being because of COVID-19 and the 13-month delay. We have to protect these funds…”
Weir-Lytle, however, said it is a new day for USES financially because of the sale, and keeps them from having to absorb exorbitant maintenance costs on the Tubman House – which was said to cost around $40,000 per month just to maintain.
“I think the decision to sell 566 Columbus Avenue was made as our best effort to save the future of USES,” she said. “Really what it means is we are positioned to have an impact on children and families for generations to come…It was a major, major milestone for the organization and super important for us.”
USES was financially on the edge it had reported when beginning to explore its real estate options in 2018, noting it had financial troubles for many years before as well. The idea of selling the Tubman House surfaced in 2019 as a way to consolidate services at their Rutland Street property and use the proceeds of the sale to solidify the organization so that finances are not a problem again.
“The proceeds from the sale are really set up to establish an endowment for the organization,” she said. “The endowment will serve as a cushion to ensure financial longevity.”
David Goldman of New Boston Ventures said they were happy to have closed on the building, even if it did take longer than expected.
“I think there are a lot of benefits to our being able to move forward and close on the building,” he said. “Obviously first and foremost is that it keeps the services USES provides alive to 300-plus families in the neighborhood. South End and Lower Roxbury will continue to get the services for the families and children. This thing took so long there was some serious concern whether they would be able to survive or not. So it feels good to be able to do a project that has that kind of a public benefit to it.”
For USES, Weir-Lytle said the next step would be planning the redevelopment of their Rutland Street building following COVID-19. None of the proceeds from the sale have been slated now for use in that redevelopment. At this point, the pandemic is still weighing heavy on USES, she said, and the families they serve. In the future, that plan will emerge, but she said right now the job is listening to the families they serve and the community, and trying to meet needs.
“Right now we’re not focusing on the renovations in that way, but we’re looking at how to expand our programs and services…and utilize our space in a way to serve children and families now.”
For New Boston, they have already begun the demolition process for 566 Columbus Ave. on the interior and will move quickly to the exterior.
“The building has been decommissioned,” he said. “There are no utilities that run into the building any longer…It’s essentially a shell without heat, running water or electricity. There are a number of different ways to approach demolition and because it’s in such a dense neighborhood we’ve chosen to go a more surgical route where it will be demolished piece by piece rather than coming in with a wrecking ball. That’s underway. The interior demo is well underway.”
He predicted an 18 to 24 month construction process, and they would move quickly from demolition to construction. Some of the exciting changes to the residential project include more community space, he said.
“We have gone from originally planning on doing 2,300 sq. ft. of community space, but through the community process we’ve actually more than doubled the community space we were originally planning on doing,” he said. “It will be approximately 4,500 sq. ft. that goes back to the community at no charge. The original 2,300 sq. ft. will go back to USES and the balance will be decided through a community process and that’s still being figured out. It will likely be some kind of RFP process the City will be overseeing…We won’t be involved with that.”
There are a number of changes that also have been made to make the building a COVID-19 safe spot. A new trend in building is to design more private outdoor spaces, and to use techniques and materials that are healthier.
For instance, copper and brass metals are more virus resistant than other metals, and Goldman said they would be implementing that change. There are also UV air purifiers incorporated into common open spaces, as well as a re-design of community space.
“There’s going to be a lot more new outdoor space,” he said. “All of these buildings will have a small gym amenity and we’re trying to figure out how to make ours and indoor/outdoor facility…We’re also looking at creating as much independent outdoor space so most of the units will have their own outdoor space if not attached to their unit, somewhere else. We’ve done that by creating fewer common area decks for private ones to give people a place to go and be outside.”
The building will be marketed by Ricardo Rodriguez, a well-known Realtor who has been a staple of the New Boston team for many years.