Proposed Redevelopment of Villa Victoria Center for the Arts Site Discussed

The Boston Planning & Development Agency held its third virtual public meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, regarding the proposed redevelopment of the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts site in the South End.

IBA (Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción), a South End-based nonprofit community development corporation, has proposed a single-phase project comprising a 26,000 square-foot, four-story building that will be home to a new multi-purpose community arts center. It will include a performance and events multipurpose space; art exhibition space; practice rooms and classrooms; meeting and community rooms; and offices for IBA administration, resident services, youth programming and other arts and services, as well as a management office for the IBA housing properties.

The site at 85 West Newton St. sits adjacent to the city’s O’Day Playground at 75 West Newton St., and “the proposed project is designed to have a relationship to West Newton Street, the park, and its neighbors,” according to a description found on the BPDA’s website for the project.

​The German Gothic-style building that previously occupied the 9,301 square-foot site, with frontage on West Newton Street, was originally built as All Saints’ Lutheran Church in 1898, and it had been home to IBA for more than 30 years. The building was demolished in 2020 after it was condemned by the city and subsequently deemed to be too expensive to repair by IBA.

​Dr. Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO of IBA, said the project would consolidate all of the organization’s programming under one roof while being an “expression of Latinx culture” that would feature “progressive and vibrant architecture.” The new building will allow IBA to expand its programming and better serve the community and residents, she added.

​Besides the multi-purpose room, other “key program areas” would include community services, administrative offices, and education facilities, said Calderon-Rosado, while site improvement will be made to sidewalks, trees, lighting, and the alley.

​Ann Beha, a project architect, said the new building would be composed of two parts, with the terraced muti-purpose room sitting below the rest of the four-story building, which faces the street. 

​The interior of the new building would be “very open,” offering views of the park, and “full of natural light,” said Beha.

​The muti-purpose room would include retractable seats, as well as removable seats at the bottom, which could be cleared out to create a “completely flat-floor open space” for dance, music, and theatre events, said Beha.

​Both the multi-purpose room and the foyer would be designed  with hardwood floors and lined with hardwood panels in an effort “to be acoustically modest to control sound,” said Beha.

​Natasha Espada, founder and principal of the Needham architectural and design firm, Studio ENÉE, said in addition to the multi-purpose room, the building’s first floor would contain lobby space, as well as bike storage and parking. (Stained-glass from the church has been preserved and could be “repurposed” for use in the lower lobby, she said.)

​The gallery space will extend from the first floor to the second floor, said Espada, where classrooms will be located.

​The project also presents the opportunity for a large door on the side of the building that would “open up to create a larger context for the multi-purpose room,” said Espada.

​The façade of the building’s first level would comprise granite and gray metal elements, said Espada, while the facades of the levels above would be made of terra cotta, with earth or brick hues, and brick.

​The BPDA board is expected to vote on this proposal at its March meeting, said Calderon-Rosado, before the developer seeks final approvals from the Boston Landmarks Commission.

​Construction documents are then expected to be worked on through the end of the summer in time to break ground on the project this fall. Construction is expected to then last between 18 and 20 months, she said, with the project wrapping up sometime in 2025.

​Public comments can be submitted on the BPDA’s project website (https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/85-west-newton-street), or emailed directly to Tyler Ross, BPDA project manager, at [email protected]

​Meanwhile, the Boston Parks Department is planning its next meeting for March 1 or 2 to discuss the future of O’Day Playground, said Mayra I. Negrón-Roche, IBA’s Chief Operating Officer.

​This meeting is part of the community outreach process for the city’s planned, estimated $2.63 million reconstruction of the playground, which will upgrade the basketball and multi-use court; create an inclusive children’s play area with poured-in-place safety surfacing; and add a water play area, along with exercise equipment, benches, and game tables. The project will also provide a shade pavilion, new trees, and other plantings, according to the city.

​The city was scheduled to hold its first deign meeting for the project as an in-person event on Nov. 5 of last year at the playground.

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