South End Forum, SEBA Look for Merger to Align Businesses and Residents

The South End Forum and South End Business Alliance (SEBA) announced at Monday’s Forum meeting that they are proposing a merger of the two long-standing organizations to further align business interests and residential interests.

Forum Moderator Steve Fox and Outgoing SEBA President Eve Ward, along with income SEBA President Liz Beutel, made the pitch during the Forum meeting on Monday night.

The merger would require the vote of, and action from, all of the Forum’s 15 Neighborhood Association members, Fox said.

“The product we’re proposing is one where we’re asking every neighborhood association in the South End to have a business representative as part of the neighborhood association,” said Fox. “This would allow business issues to flow into the issues at the neighborhood level. That will allow us to create a dialog…It’s an unusual model and doesn’t exist anywhere else in the city, but the South End is unique.”

Ward said it’s a process of reaching out “so businesses and neighbors work hand-in-hand to improve the South End.”

Part of the change will include looping in new SEBA President Liz Beutel, the director of sales at the AC Hotel in Ink Block.

“We are thrilled to have Elizabeth take the reins in 2020 and bring her extensive business experience and knowledge to our organization,” said Ward. “Her leadership will undoubtedly help SEBA continue to strengthen our relationships with the business owners, residents, and the South End community.”

The Board appointed Beutel last week to take over for Ward.

However, it was Ward, Beutel and Fox working together during COVID-19 and the challenges facing businesses from the spilling over of Mass/Cass to the rest of the neighborhood that drove the alignment proposal. Both were instrumental in crafting a South End Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pine Street Inn on the re-use of the Roundhouse Suites – an MOU that has yet to be signed but has been praised by neighbors.

Most neighborhood associations will have to take up the matter at their upcoming monthly meetings and get a consensus vote.

Demo of Villa Victoria Center for the Arts Coming Up

Officials from IBA told the Forum they have cleared Landmarks and begun the process of demolishing the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts on 85 W. Newton St. The former church turned performance and art space had structural issues that couldn’t be corrected and it was condemned. After a long process with Landmarks, the schedule is set now for demolition.

They will begin taking down the old building in November, at one point having to close down the street for five consecutive days to accommodate a crane in the street. There will be a buffer zone and mitigation measures to contain dust and debris from the demolition.

It is expected to be completely knocked down by January.

At that point, IBA CEO Vanessa Calderon Rosado said they will begin envisioning what kind of new space could go there. She said they don’t have any major plans now, but it would be a building that activates the street and opens up to the playground and the street at the same time.

“We’ll have a building that makes those connections better with a sense of openness and transparency,” she said.

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