Plan needed for key building at Uphams Corner

As work progresses in expanding the Fairmount commuter rail line, more federal money is being released to help local authorities and community development corporations capitalize on the new or improved transit hubs. This week, state officials huddled in the rain near the South Bay Mall to discuss the potential impact of a new Fairmount stop at Massachusetts Avenue that will bear the name “Newmarket” — a reference to the largely industrial zone that borders the mall.

Over the summer, Senator John F. Kerry visited Quincy Street to put the spotlight on a major outlay of federal dollars — more than $20 million— that have been earmarked by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials to assist in the redevelopment of several properties along that corridor. While at present there is no new station stop planned for Quincy Street, community development planners hope there will be some day soon.

And, just before Thanksgiving, HUD officials were back in Dorchester to trumpet more money — $1.8 million in a grant to the city— intended for “planning and land acquisition related to mixed-use and transit-orientated development along the Fairmount commuter rail line.” The location of that announcement — in which Mayor Menino and Congressman Michael Capuano spoke— was interesting: an old warehouse at 65 East Cottage Street that has recently been taken over by the city of Boston after the previous owner defaulted on tax payments. The site — valued at some $1.7 million, according to city assessing records— is close to the Uphams Corner commuter rail stop and the newly built Kroc Community Center on Dudley Street. The East Cottage Street property, long zoned industrial, was re-zoned in 2010 and is now open for commercial use, a change that portends redevelopment in the coming years.

Another critical site that has long cried out for redevelopment is a hulking, seven-story warehouse building that sits cheek-to-jowl with the actual Uphams Corner station, which was upgraded back in 2003 via a $6 million facelift. The Leon Electric building looms dark and heavy over the passengers who use the Uphams Corner station. Despite repeated attempts over the years to engage the owner, Arthur Leon, in conversations about re-use of the building —perhaps for the kind of transit-oriented development project that has thrived at Ashmont station— the building remains a forlorn reminder of the old Dudley Street.

Given the opportunities that are now sprouting up and down this rail corridor, perhaps the time is right for Mr. Leon and City Hall to renew their talks about this important link. If the owner remains uninterested in exploring re-uses for his Humphrey Street land, perhaps the Boston Redevelopment Authority should consider a more direct approach, similar to one it employed recently down the street in Dudley Square. There, in order to move forward a long-delayed municipal construction project, the BRA has initiated a rare eminent domain land taking of two buildings on Washington Street with combined footprints of some 23,000 square feet, similar to the size of the Leon building on Humphrey Street.

– Bill Forry

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