Girard,Cathedral Parish Partner for Great New Housing

By Seth Daniel

On rare occasions, community institutions and residential property developers come together in synchronicity – with both parties meeting at the intersection of win-win.

The development of the Girard apartment building on Harrison Avenue, behind the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, is by most accounts just such an occurrence.

The Girard began moving new residents in to its 160-unit apartment building on Harrison and Malden Streets last weekend, continuing full-force this week, and has hopes that it has delivered the best property on the market right now.

“We’re hopeful that it will be regarded as a contemporary landmark in the community now that we’re through the construction and it is becoming occupied,” said developer and Southender Peter Roth, of New Atlantic Development. “It’s a strong building and very respectful to its historic context, but there’s nothing historic about it. It’s strikingly contemporary…Our goal is to really share information about design, architecture and the arts and build that into a community…We’ve really tried to make the experience more than having just a fantastic apartment…Now that we can move people in, qualified renters who walk through the door, and are interested, are closing the deal because the quality of our apartments. We really do have the best product on the market.”

While there are curated finishes, extensive art program, unique amenities and a noted property manager (Pezzutto Management, which is fairly new to Boston), the best part of the Girard story is the cooperation between the Cathedral, Roth and the community to produce a project nearly everyone sees as a positive in a booming area of the neighborhood.

Roth began working on the Girard soon after completing the ArtBlock condos on Harrison Avenue near the Boston Medical Center campus – a successful partnership with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) that opened in 2008. Roth lives and works out of the ArtBlock, and got high marks from the community, something that the Cathedral’s Father Kevin Balliri heard about.

Father Balliri was in a conundrum at the time.

He had a parking lot that was very valuable, but not getting used all that much. He also had a large congregation that was unable to sustain the Parish. Putting two and two together, Father Balliri approached Roth though a mutual friend.

“He had these severe deficits,” said Roth. “He had property in an area with the largest increasing property values in New England and also he had one of the poorest Parishes in the system. He wanted to see how the land could actually sustain this institution through the future. The idea was really his. We met through a mutual friend and sat down and talked and also had to sell the idea to other members of the Archdiocese. That took time and there were complexities. It was a three-year process to assemble the land transaction. We finally succeeded in getting that ironed out.”

He added that Father Balliri’s commitment and inspiration led to a great new apartment building and a sustainable Parish.

“The reason for this project, though it’s turned into a great apartment community, was to strengthen the future of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross,” said Roth. “I think we’ve achieved that as well.”

After that great partnership was memorialized with the land transaction, Roth began designing the project with extreme care – taking a year to iron out the space plans and to dig into the details of every square inch of the Girard, right down to analyzing how the closets would work.

The thoughts behind the design were inspired by Alexander Girard – a designer from the mid-20th Century who is the namesake of the building. Girard used very contemporary design, but also leaned on bright color pallettes and the use of folk art.

Beyond that, a major influence on the spirit of the Girard came from the living room of the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum.

“It’s a room designed to be comfortable with big couches and comfortable chairs and rugs from Afghanistan,” said Roth. “It has a wonderful Library and you want to spend some time there. We thought if we could create anything like that, it would be a success. We took that space and…tried to emulate that spirit. Yes, we copied some of the pieces, but it was the spirit we were after.”

The amenities for the project include one very unique thing in that there is a guest suite that any resident can reserve for a visitor. There is also 3,600 sq. ft. of retail that Roth said would likely be a restaurant, with the tenant to be announced this month.

“We see the building as something a more mature professional or empty nesters or a professional who might be coming to Boston for a post-doctoral program might be attracted to,” said Roth. “Our units are a little larger…They all have real dining areas and not a place where you struggle to find where the table goes. The kitchens are designed actually for people who like to cook. They aren’t just cabinets slapped on a wall. Some units have gas cooking ranges available, which is almost never found in apartment units. We have a great location that can support it and a great part of the neighborhood to seek out art, restaurants and parks. It has all the things people love about the South End.”

Being a resident of the South End himself, living just down the street in ArtBlock, Roth thanked the community for putting up with the construction and the seven years it took from conception to completion. He also thanked the community for the kind words of encouragement, saying it has been well received.

“Every time I’m stopped by a friend or neighbor on the street – I only live two blocks away – they are thrilled by the way it’s turned out,” he said. “It’s great to have all our hard work acknowledged by these friends and neighbors I see every day…Certainly, I will acknowledge neighbors have been immensely inconvenienced because the building fills up most of the site…We had to close down half of the street for a little longer than expected…It’s all coming to an end though…We hope neighbors will like what we’ve done and enjoy a new landmark in the South End.”

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