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BPDA designates diverse development team to transform Nubian Square's Blair Lot into cultural and economic development destination

Dec 17, 2020

Responds to community vision laid out in BPDA's PLAN: Nubian Square

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) Board of Directors today voted to tentatively designate Nubian Ascend Partners, LLC, to develop the BPDA-owned Blair Lot parking lot in Roxbury’s Nubian Square. The proposal responds to the community vision laid out through the BPDA’s planning initiative for the neighborhood, PLAN: Nubian Square. If approved, the proposal will create a new regional destination with a marketplace to support neighborhood businesses and local artisans, a food hall with an on-site culinary program, and a multipurpose cultural hall and theater. The proposal meets the BPDA and City of Boston’s diversity and inclusion requirements for publicly-owned land to create increased opportunities for people of color, women, and for the participation of Minority Business Enterprises (M/BEs).

“The vision set out through PLAN: Nubian Square advances equity by prioritizing the use of public land for public good and supporting quality jobs and business ownership opportunities that lead to wealth creation,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “The Blair Lot offers us an extraordinary opportunity to improve the quality of life for so many Nubian Square and Roxbury residents, and I am pleased to see this strong proposal that responds to the vision of our community move forward.”

Mayor Walsh launched plan PLAN: Nubian Square (formerly, PLAN: Dudley Square) in 2016 to determine if the publicly-owned vacant land in Dudley Square could be put to better use, and how redevelopment could improve the quality of life for Nubian Square and Roxbury residents. PLAN: Nubian has consisted of an extensive community engagement process, including over 30 public workshops, walking tours, community gatherings, and meetings in order to share information, establish a vision for the future, and solicit feedback from the community.

The RFP for the Blair Lot, released last year, reflected the PLAN: Nubian community process calling for consistency with area planning history and using development as a catalyst to promote the arts, culture, education, commercial, and retail enterprise in recognition of the area’s rich cultural history, local business and job creation, with special emphasis on providing maximum opportunities for local, small and disadvantaged businesses and job creation and training for people of color and women. In line with the BPDA and City of Boston’s diversity and inclusion criteria for public land, it called for a narrative setting forth a plan for establishing and overseeing a minority outreach program aimed at creating increased opportunities for people of color, women, and Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (“M/WBEs”) to participate in the development. Finally, it called for proposals to provide sustainable and resilient development to meet the Mayor’s goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and to develop without displacement, assisting the current residents of Roxbury to afford to remain living in their community and to find pathways to economic opportunity.

BPDA staff has coordinated closely throughout the review process with the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee (RSMPOC). The RSMPOC was developed to oversee projects that fall under the 2004 Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, and the Committee members have closely collaborated with BPDA staff on PLAN: Nubian Square. The RSMPOC is made-up of fifteen volunteer members who represent the community.

Nubian Ascends Proposal

Nubian Ascends Partners was approved by the BPDA for tentative designation for the parcel following community support and an unanimous vote of support by the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee on December 7, 2020. The partnership is led by Richard Taylor, Kai and Chris Grant of Black Market, and Mario San Jacinto of Almiranta Capital LLC. Black Market, located in Nubian Square, provides training and job opportunities for skilled entrepreneurs while fostering the artistic and cultural vibrancy of the area. The development team also includes Stantec and DREAM Collaborative, Consigli Construction, UHM Properties for operations, and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.

Transformative economic development

The Nubian Ascend Partners, LLC proposal is a 329,000 square foot development that includes a mix of uses intended to transform Nubian Square into a day and night time destination. The 125,000 square feet of proposed commercial space is proposed to bring 900 jobs to Nubian Square, which will bring purchasing power to support neighborhood businesses and create demand for the 48,000 square foot marketplace on the ground floor. This marketplace will feature local artisans and makers, beside a food hall that showcases chefs from the on-site culinary arts program. The proposed 25,000 square foot multi-purpose cultural hall and theater will support Nubian Square’s transformation to an evening destination, encouraging residents to stay local and support local businesses and will serve as a diverse place for all of Boston, and a new destination for the region. The developers will also provide one floor of subsidized commercial space for local neighborhood businesses.

Promoting Nubian Square as a center for the arts

The program also includes a 25,000 square foot multi-purpose cultural hall which seeks to provide a new home for the rich arts and cultural offerings of the local community, with flexible and accessible indoor and outdoor performance and arts space. The Cultural Hall will be a place for celebration that supports local artists and helps further build Roxbury’s creative economy. The proposal also supports arts uses with 15 units of artist live-work housing, and a 5,500 square foot art lab.

Comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion plan

Nubian Ascend Partners, LLC proposes a thoughtful and comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion plan throughout all aspects of the proposal. The development team partners, Nubian Square Development, LLC, Almiranta Development and Capital, and Black Market Development, are minority owned and controlled. The project architect role is a collaboration between Stantec and Dream Collaborative, an MBE. The design team also includes Ground, Inc. (WBE) as the landscape architect, and VHB (MWBE) as the civil engineer.

In addition, the development team has committed to investing in local organizations serving the neighboring community including the BASE, No Books No Ball, the PieRSquared Math Program, $150,000 for community-based artists to implement a mural project on the property, $50,000 to support the Justice Edward O’ Gourdin Veterans’ Memorial Park, and the Roxbury Cultural District.

The Blair Lot consists of approximately 87,879 square feet of vacant land located between Washington Street and Harrison Avenue. Originally a parking lot for the long-shuttered grocery store Blair’s Foodland, the BPDA purchased the blighted property from a private owner on December 23, 1985. It is presently used for parking by local employees and visitors to Nubian Square.

The Blair Lot Request for Proposal (RFP) has undergone extensive community process as one of nine publicly-owned vacant properties in the Nubian Square area of Roxbury that comprise PLAN: Nubian Square. Four of these properties have been tentatively designated, and responses for two RFPs are currently under evaluation in addition to the Blair Lot.

The tentative designation will allow the project to kick-off its BPDA Article 80 public process alongside the community.

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