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Mayor Janey announces Upham’s Corner Arts & Innovation District moves forward with release of RFPs

Sep 28, 2021

Mayor Kim Janey, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) are moving forward with two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that advance the implementation of Imagine Boston 2030 and the creation of the Upham’s Corner Arts & Innovation District. Together, the RFPs advance the community’s vision to build a new Upham’s Corner branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL), designate an experienced operator for the Strand Theatre, create affordable housing and affordable commercial space that supports both local residents and business owners, revitalize Upham’s Corner as a cultural destination, and to serve as a model for development without displacement.

"We have an incredible opportunity in Upham's Corner to revitalize vacant, underutilized properties and parking lots into transformative spaces that will support existing residents and restore the neighborhood into the cultural hub that it is," said Mayor Kim Janey. "These RFPs come after years of community-centered planning, and I thank the members of the WAG, and all of the local stakeholders who have helped us reach this milestone." 

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of collaborative planning efforts driven by community members with a clear vision for the economic future of Upham’s Corner,”  said Midori Morikawa, Chief of Economic Development. Both community and city stakeholders made a commitment to invest in this neighborhood by highlighting the values identified through the Imagine Boston 2030 citywide community planning process of equity, economic opportunity, cultural vibrancy, and affordability to serve its residents and business owners. Upham’s Corner is poised to become both a cultural destination as well as a national model for community-driven economic development.”

The steps announced today result from a multi-year long comprehensive community process where City of Boston departments, including the BPDA, DND, the Office of Economic Development, the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture, and the Boston Public Library, worked closely alongside the Upham’s Corner Working Advisory Group (WAG), the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI), and Upham’s Corner Main Streets, to ensure that the redevelopment of multiple vacant and dilapidated sites in Upham’s Corner were redeveloped to support the local Upham’s Corner community. The WAG is a City-appointed advisory group consisting of residents, business owners, advocates, and other community leaders. Their feedback and input has helped shape the content of community meetings and the RFPs.

"DSNI applauds the intentionality behind the language included in the RFP’s to promote diversity and development without displacement," said John Smith, Executive Director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and WAG member. "As neighborhoods around the City continue to deal with economic inequities and gentrification, it’s important to focus on development without displacement. DSNI has a mission to act as a steward for neighborhood development, and as such we will continue to advocate for community development that does not leave the 'community' behind."

"As a long time Upham's Corner resident and WAG member, I am excited about the revitalization that is coming," said Joan Tighe, Coordinator for the Fairmount Indigo CDC Collaborative. "A rejuvenated Strand Theatre and a new public library are critical to the artistic and commercial life of the business district and the surrounding neighborhood.  Coupled with the creation of new affordable housing, I see a bright future for Upham's Corner in the years ahead."

The release of the RFPs  follows eight community workshops with more than 500 collective attendees since 2017, and supports the goals of the Upham’s Corner Station Area Plan of the Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative.

New Upham’s Corner Branch Library; Affordable Housing and Commercial Space 

In partnership with the City of Boston’s Department of Public Facilities and the Upham’s Corner community, the Boston Public Library recently completed a test study for the creation of a new branch library in Upham’s Corner. The study, which examines the scenarios that would lead to a successful design, led to the creation of the RFP for 555-559 Columbia Road. 

Along with calling for a new branch library, the RFP, released by the BPDA on September 22, also marks a signature deployment of the City’s Housing with Public Assets initiative, calling for a mixed-income housing development atop the lower two floors that will house the new Upham’s Corner branch and affordable commercial space. 

Much of the space at 555-559 Columbia Road will be dedicated to the community vision of an arts and innovation hub.  Components of the new branch library will support arts and innovation, including the ability to host performing arts productions, displays of BPL collections related to the performing arts, and a maker space. In addition, the RFP calls for the commercial space to support arts and innovation, while a significant portion of the affordable housing will be set aside as artist housing.  

The site is currently vacant and requires environmental remediation. Once complete, the site will serve as a model for the Housing with Public Assets initiative for other similar sites around the City. 

“We can not wait to deliver on a decades-old promise of a new library for the Upham’s Corner community,” said BPL president David Leonard.  “To be a part of this community-driven collaboration has been incredibly exciting, and we are looking forward to delivering the community a fantastic new, larger public library at the heart of this arts and innovation district.”  

Strand Theatre

In addition, the upcoming RFP for the 555-559 Columbia Road calls for an experienced operator for the historic Strand Theatre to lead robust programming that supports the local arts community and restores the Strand as a cultural destination for the region and the anchor of the Upham’s Corner Arts & Innovation District. The Strand Theatre, which is approximately 56,000 square feet with 1,400 seats, is owned by the City of Boston and managed by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. 

Developers and experienced cultural space operators are encouraged to form partnerships that will lead to successful advancement of the vision of the Upham’s Corner Arts and Innovation District.

Affordable Housing and Commercial Space at 18 Hamlet Street 

On October 3, DND released an RFP for 0-18 Hamlet Street, calling for mixed-use development of the site, including affordable commercial and/or residential space and publicly available parking for the Uphams Corner area. The site is currently in use as Municipal Lot #19, a City-owned surface parking lot with approximately 88 spaces. The RFP will require these spaces to be replaced as part of any development proposal in addition to providing parking to support additional uses on the site. 

Commercial development on the Hamlet Street site will be expected to advance the Upham’s Corner Arts & Innovation objectives and incorporate potential business/entrepreneurship development, space for non-profit organizations and/or exhibit space. A portion of the plan for this site should deliver permanently affordable housing to support the Upham’s Corner community and promote a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood. While housing is not the primary preferred use of this site, a portion of the site can accommodate housing that relates to the scale of other residential structures along Hamlet Street. 

In addition, earlier this year DNI released a RFP to develop the parcel of land at 568-574 Columbia Road and in May 2021, selected a development team co-led by Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC) and Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). The proposed development will deliver permanently affordable rental housing that serves the Upham’s Corner community and incorporates artists’ spaces, as well as provides affordable commercial space that honors the Arts & Innovation theme and incorporates business/entrepreneurship development, exhibit space, and smaller performance venues.
Prioritizing Diversity and Development without Displacement

Like all publicly-owned parcels in the City of Boston, the RFPs will include a Diversity and Inclusion evaluation criterion, requiring proponents to include a Diversity and Inclusion Plan to outline their commitments to including M/WBEs in all aspects of their development which will be weighted at 25 percent of the total evaluation of the parcel. Respondents must also demonstrate how their proposals will allow the current residents of Upham’s Corner to both remain in their communities and find additional pathways to economic opportunity. 

To support networking among potential bidders and answer questions about both RFPs, the BPDA, DND, and City of Boston departments will host a virtual pre-proposal conference on October 13 and a site visit on October 19. Attendance for bidders is optional but strongly encouraged. Responses are due on December 23, 2021. 

Shaped by the input of over 15,000 residents, Imagine Boston 2030 is the first citywide plan in over 50 years. Imagine Boston 2030 prioritizes inclusionary growth and puts forth a comprehensive vision to enhance neighborhoods, encourage a mixed-use core, support employment and housing growth, create a waterfront that sustains future generations, and concentrate investments to reduce disparities and expand opportunities. Learn more about the BPDA’s implementation of Imagine Boston 2030. 

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