SoWa owners detail two changes to their South End campus

The SoWa Power Station is undergoing significant renovations that will make it a “striking” building in the city and be able to handle events of all kinds year-round.
GTI Properties owner Mario Nicosia appeared at the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) on March 3 to talk about the changes to the Power Station and provide an update on his proposed new building project on Harrison Avenue.
“It’s really going to be one of the buildings that sticks out in the city,” Nicosia said. “We’ve done a lot of repairs already and have been working on this since last fall. It’s going to look amazing. It’s a huge amount of work, much more than I anticipated.”
The Power Station was originally built around 1870 to supply power to the first subway system. However, due to the rapidly advancing technology, it became obsolete by 1890. The large, brick building sat as a vacant shell until the 1980s when Nicosia bought the property. For some years now, he has been using the building as a space for special events – such as special programming, such as the SoWa Beer Garden, large exercise classes and the Winter Market. It operated without bathrooms or heat or any such amenities, using a temporary permit for each event.
Now, total upgrades are being made, including bathrooms, new Italian-steel windows, a heating/air conditioning system, fire sprinklers, and other amenities. They have also sandblasted all of the brick inside and outside and repaired it all as well – a tedious job that has lasted months.
Nicosia said he has toyed with many ideas for the very unique building over the years, but has finally settled on it as an events space.
“For years I couldn’t figure out what to do with the building, but the best use is for events,” he said. “If you do anything else, like a movie theatre or a Whole Foods, you close out the building. You want the building open and active. The best way to keep it that way is by having events. It’s going to be an amazing building. We already have some museum shows coming up. We probably have 300 requests to use it.”
The new Power Station would be open year-round and is expected to be completed by December.
“The goal is to have it ready for WinterFest (in December),” he said.
•The second part of his presentation involved the development of a new office/residential/retail building on the vacant parking lot at 478 Harrison Ave.
Nicosia had first proposed a 16-unit building with ground-floor retail about 18 months ago to EBNA, but had not come back or filed since. Now, he has changed it to eight units of residential, two floors of office and a retail tenant – likely a home furnishings store.
The building conforms to all of the zoning for that area, which was changed in 2014 as part of the Harrison Albany Corridor planning study. It requires no zoning relief at all, but will be required to file under the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Small Project Review process.
Nicosia said he changed to office uses because he has seen a lot of mid-sized small businesses get pushed out of the Back Bay and other areas of Boston. He said there is a real need for that and it would be a good use for a building that seeks to “fill out” the block.
“I noticed a lot of smaller businesses have been expanding this way,” he said. “There is a need for smaller office uses, from 5,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet with 20 to 50 employees. It seems to be a place in the market that isn’t addressed. Many of the big landlords are looking for credit tenants and that leaves small businesses out in the cold.”
The units would be mostly two-bedrooms that are larger, about 1,200 square feet
“I can guarantee it will be an attractive building with a good selection of tenants,” he said.
The timeline is to start next spring and spend 18 months building it. He plans to file for Small Project Review soon.
•Chef Michael Serpa presented his new plans for the Atlantico Restaurant to EBNA, a restaurant that seeks to open by the end of the month in the former Southern Property space on Harrison Avenue.
“I’m very excited to get into the South End,” he said. “I know this neighborhood supports restaurants. It’s great to get into another neighborhood and meet new people.”
Serpa has Select Oyster Bar in the Back Bay and Grand Tour on Newbury Street, and will focus on Tapas and seafood at Atlantico. They will have a full bar and are utilizing the existing license that was on site with Southern Proper. They will also continue with the seating outside.
However, they hope to make it an all-day affair, opening for coffee and pastries in the mornings.
“We think there is a little need in that area, and there are a lot of residents above in the Girard who could get their coffee there too,” he said.
He said he envisions being open for lunch and having the restaurant be a café and work space area during the day, then transition to a more formal dining room at night.
•The stalled Druker office building project at the corner of East Berkeley and Washington streets has been on the mind of many at EBNA. More than six years ago the Druker Company proposed a 10-story office tower there, and got neighborhood and City approvals.
Then they disappeared.
EBNA heard from the BPDA that there is no expiration on their approval for the building, but EBNA stressed they would like an update and a revisiting of the process.

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