City: Uphams Corner has reached a pivotal moment for Arts & Cultural District

A map of some key properties now in process or in an RFP process within the Uphams Corner Arts & Innovation District. Renderings and maps courtesy Boston Planning and Development Agency

A very conceptual drawing of what any Uphams Corner Branch Library could look like within the context of a residential housing development on the former Bank of America site.

With two major Requests for Proposals (RFP) out on the street this fall for Uphams Corner, City officials told those involved in the planning for the Uphams Corner Arts & Innovation District that the effort was at an exciting and pivotal moment.

For the first time since last spring, the Working Advisory Group (WAG) and the members of the community gathered online on Nov. 17 for an update in a process that has plugged on since 2017.

The major update was news of the RFPs going out to developers and interested parties for two key sites, as first reported by the Reporter in September. The RFPs include one for the former Bank of America Building, its parking lot, and operations of the Strand Theatre. That multi-faceted RFP also requires any developer to deliver a two-story ground floor shell that would house a new Uphams Corner Library – with $18 million already available to help pay for the library. The second RFP involves developing the Hamlet Street parking lot for affordable commercial and residential uses (as well as keeping all 88 existing spaces free and available within any development).

“We’re at an exciting point now, a very exciting point, to get these RFPs out, but it will still take time,” said Andrew Grace, of the Office of Economic Development.

“We did have a bidder’s conference in October — both virtual and in-person for interested parties— and what we found at both events was we had between 30 and 50 virtual and in-person participants that were interested in these,” added Kirsten Studlien, a project manager.

City Arts Chief Kara Elliott Ortega said the Uphams Corner initiative is fully supported by the new administration and meetings on the effort will continue.

The RFP deadline is Dec. 23, and City officials will review all submissions through the winter, with public meetings to unveil proposals expected in late winter. A developer designation could happen as early as Spring 2022.

Grace said that with all the legwork having been done with the community, they hope that the honed-in RFPs would come back with exciting projects that are amenable to the community and that can be acted on quickly.

“It does take time, but we would hope this is done in shorter time,” he said. “We could realistically be out another 1.5 or two years before you see construction starting…You can expect that same amount of time to build it. It could be another three to five years I believe (in total).”

A key accompanying update was on the Citizen’s Bank Building at 572 Columbia Rd., known as Columbia Crossing, that has a private RFP out from Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). Officials said a development team with Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp. (EDC) has won the RFP and is working hard to advance their project to the City’s Article 80 process. Their project includes 62 income-restricted apartments and arts/innovation space. The building now houses the Fairmount Innovation Lab. Permitting and financing is expected through 2022 and construction could come in 2023.

UPHAMS CORNER NOTEBOOK:

Other updates to the Uphams Corner District included:

•Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is in the process of hiring a dedicated planner to lead a visioning and community process for re-building and re-configuring the entire roadway of Columbia Road. That effort is expected to kick-off in 2022 and the end result will be a conceptual design plan for the roadway. The re-construction would probably be about three to five years away, Grace said.

•Arts Chief Elliott Ortega announced the Humphrey’s Street Studios is about to be sold and preserved in a partnership between the artists, New Atlantic Development and Placetailor.

“A purchase and sale agreement is pending right now,” said Ortega. “The plan is to build apartments, but retain the studios and create a shared space for artists in the building.”

The quest to keep the artist workspaces intact has been ongoing since late artist-owners Joe Wheelwright and Neal Widett passed away and the remaining owners put the building up for sale. The effort to keep the studios was cemented in the phrase, “Art Works Here. Art Stays Here.”

The studios are located at 11 Humphreys St.

•The Fairmount Innovation Lab will host its first gallery opening before the end of the year with local photographer Jordan Christopher showing work.

•The Fox Hall (554 Columbia Rd.) development is in the midst of the Article 80 process, and after a short pause, will re-start the community process in December.

•The restoration and reconstruction of the iconic Pierce Building at the apex of Uphams Corner by Dorchester Bay EDC is scheduled to be fully completed in Oct. 2022.

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