Baker seeks to redevelop state parcel

Works with Walsh on parcel near Chinatown

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

PLANNING TO MOVE STATE HIGHWAY OFFICES from their perch above Boston’s Big Dig, city and state officials want to develop a large area at the edge of Chinatown, they announced Tuesday.

The move is a high-profile example of an effort by Gov. Charlie Baker to convert state-owned land into housing and economic development opportunities. The buildings sit on 5.5 acres at 185 Kneeland Street, and officials say the site offers the potential for up to 1.5 to 2 million square feet of redevelopment.

A steam plant and highway offices overlooking the Southeast Expressway could make way for a mixed-use development at the edge of Boston’s Chinatown.

The space overlooking Interstate 93 houses the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s District Six highway offices as well as a Veolia North America steam plant. The plant will remain, but is likely to occupy a much smaller footprint. Officials will need to find a new spot with highway access for the transportation offices, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

A public input session is planned at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 in the 1st Floor Conference Room at 185 Kneeland Street.

Pollack said neighborhood meetings will shape development of bid documents, and officials are “very committed” to including housing in what could be a mixed-use development.

“There’s a lot of potential in this area to bring housing opportunities, economic, closer to transit,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, touting his administration’s plans for 53,000 new units of housing built in the city over the next 15 years.

Department of Neighborhood Development Chief Sheila Dillon said 30,000 units are somewhere in the pipeline and the city’s competitive, expensive housing market is “starting to see some relief.”

“There are a lot of things you can do with 2 million square feet, some of which will include an affordable housing piece,” Baker said. He also said, “The land won’t be what it would normally be under a traditional buy.”

According to Boston assessing records, the two parcels owned by the state and Veolia are worth a total of about $30.3 million.

Development of the lucrative site, which is walking distance to South Station, Chinatown, the Leather District, and Ink Block, is of a piece with Baker’s goal of converting more modest state-owned lots (that he has often described as trash strewn and neglected) into development opportunities.

“There are a bunch of those in the city of Boston and, truthfully, it makes me crazy when I look out and see those parcels that could be adding so much to their community and aren’t doing anything,” said Baker.

The governor recalled visits with Chrystal Kornegay, now the undersecretary of Housing and Community Development, at Urban Edge in Roxbury. Noticing a trash-filled lot near the office, Baker asked Kornegay “‘What’s the deal with this one?’ and she said, ‘That’s a state-owned parcel. It’s looked like that for as long as I can remember. Nobody’s ever done anything with it.'”

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Pollack said in addition to relocating the Boston area highway office, the administration is considering relocating a backup highway facility in South Boston, and proceeds from the real estate deal would be used for the relocation. “The first level question is repayment of any obligations we would have to Federal Highway” stemming from the Big Dig, she said.

The parcel that hosts the state transportation offices has long been the subject of speculation over a potential sale, including as part of the state’s deliberations over financing the Big Dig.