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Southie power plant redevelopment OK’d by city, crossing major hurdle

Posted by mmccameron on January 14, 2021
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The Boston Planning and Development Agency on Thursday approved the long-planned transformation of South Boston’s Edison power plant into a 1.68 million-square-foot mixed-use development, with hundreds of residential units, a hotel and 860,000 square feet of office and R&D space.

The approval represents a major hurdle for the joint venture development team of Hilco Redevelopment Partners and Redgate, who say the redevelopment of the historic power plant will open up the 15-acre site for the first time in more than 120 years.

But the approved plan was changed drastically from the initial proposal, going from 1,588 housing units to 636 in the final plan.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch testified at the BPDA board meeting Thursday evening, recalling working at the adjacent Paul W. Conley Container Terminal as an iron worker. Lynch — who erroneously said a number of times that the project was first proposed with 3,000 units — praised the reduction of housing units on the site and the South Boston neighborhood’s participation in the project’s development review.

“I know that by reducing the number of units … we eliminated a large portion of affordable housing, but that’s the tradeoff there,” Lynch said. “There will still be a significant number of affordable units, and God knows we need those in the neighborhood.”

BPDA board member Ted Landsmark said at the meeting that the proposal is a “terrific solution” to an eyesore that for decades polluted the air, land and water land, air and water of the South Boston community. The project could serve as a case study for how the community, development team and neighborhood can work together to create a solution that benefits the whole city, Landsmark said.

“One of the things I think this project demonstrates very conclusively is that when a community has discourse that involves the developer and this agency, that there are very positive results,” Landsmark said. “One would hope the ongoing dialogue would make this particular site the kind of destination that would further prove the diverse nature of the city and the need for everyone to have access to the waterfront.”

Hilco and Redgate still have to receive multiple state approvals before they can begin cleanup, demolition and construction on the site. Notably, the developers need the quasi-public Massachusetts Port Authority to lift a residential deed restriction limiting housing construction on the site, a protective measure put in place years ago given the power plant’s proximity to the Conley terminal and the active freight corridor.

Hilco and Redgate intend to seek those state approvals — including a Chapter 91 license necessary to develop on waterfront property — this year, the developers said in an interview.

“We do genuinely believe we can hit those milestones in 2021,” said Redgate’s Greg Bialecki. “We don’t have a formal answer from Massport, but we have a lot of conversations. … They’ve consistently indicated, ‘we’re not saying no housing, ever.’ They’re saying, ‘we’ve got to be careful about housing.’”

Redgate and Hilco jointly bought the power plant at 776 Summer St. in April 2016 and intend to stay on as the site’s master developer for the entire buildout, which could take around a decade.

While demand for office space has diminished in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and many companies are debating their future real-estate plans, there’s still appetite from the investment community to fund projects in Boston, said Melissa Schrock, Hilco’s senior vice president of mixed-use development.

“There’s going to be continued growth here,” Schrock said. “We have enough diversity in our economy to survive better than most areas in the country.”

The 15-acre L Street Station project will feature three revamped turbine halls, soaring structures that date to the late 1800s. It will also include a 2.5-acre public waterfront park and 80,000 square feet of South Boston-focused retail.

Some 16% of the apartments on the site and another 16% of the condos will be restricted to certain levels of income. The site will have nearly six acres of open green space and active recreation areas. Beyond the three commercial buildings, the developers plan to build a 231-room hotel, 1,214 parking spaces and indoor space dedicated for local artists, artisans and makers.

The project’s community benefits package includes multiple apprenticeships and internships for city residents. All told, the 776 Summer St. project is expected to employ 2,500 construction workers and house 1,500 permanent jobs once fully built out.