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Marine complex in South Boston gets green light

The Boston Redevelopment Authority yesterday approved a major new development for 30 acres on the South Boston Waterfront - not for luxury condos and swanky restaurants, but for maritime industrial uses.

After years of proposals and approvals for mostly mixes of luxury residences, hotels, and office developments on the harbor's edge in the city, traditional water-related activities have made a distinct comeback along an 800-foot dock in the Boston Marine Industrial Park.

The new Boston Cargo Terminal, as the facility is to be called, will have multiple tenants including those handling seafood. It will accommodate ocean, truck, rail, and air transportation and - though no tenants have been disclosed - is expected to have seafood processors, cold-storage facilities, and warehouses.

The site is where the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier docked when it visited Boston earlier this year before its decommissioning.

Yesterday, the city approved a $130 million plan by the developer, Marine Terminal Development LLC, for three buildings totaling more than a half-million square feet, and a 4.3-acre bulk cargo facility to import and export concrete materials.

The empty land - bounded by the harbor, FID Kennedy Drive, and Seafood Way - is owned by the city but leased until 2070 to the Massachusetts Port Authority, which in turn is leasing it to the company. In the past, it has been used for storage of new automobiles bound for Boston-area dealers and was referred to as Subaru Pier, and, more recently held hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dirt excavated from the Big Dig.

"That site has deep-water berthing, one of the few sites on the waterfront that can accommodate large ships," said Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, which promotes maritime use of the city's waterfront property.

"It makes sense to have an expanded warehousing facility," she said.

Marine Terminal Development is owned by two businessmen, Neil Fitzpatrick and Jake Citron, and Ralph Cox, a former Massachusetts Port Authority official and real estate executive. Cox joined the company when two high-profile Boston real estate executives sold their shares of the project. They are Joseph F. Fallon, developer of Fan Pier, and Steve Karp, of New England Development of Newton.

None of the current owners returned calls seeking comment.

The owners of Marine Terminal Development also operate other cargo facilities in Boston.

A railroad line is eventually expected to be extended into the new Boston Cargo Terminal, BRA officials said. Also, the developer is "currently completing negotiations with an international cement company which will develop a state-of-the-art facility," according to BRA documents.

Meantime, the developers, or their tenants, will restore the dilapidated pier, so the area can be used as a working shipping platform.

The dock will be replaced by a 600-foot dock and a 400-foot barge-loading platform, located on the east end of the property.

Despite the city approval, Li said, there are still some outstanding issues her organization has with the development. The Boston Harbor Association has petitioned the city and state to reserve some time at the jetty for visits from large vessels, including the majestic tall ships that periodically visit Boston's historic harbor.

She said she has not heard back on her requests, but the developer has agreed to build space on the west side of the property, near the headquarters of Legal Sea Foods, where the public can view the working port and displays depicting the history of the area.

The association also wants Marine Terminal Development to reduce its planned 280-space parking lot and double the size of that small viewing area.

The site, as well as other nearby port facilities, will not be part of the city's Harborwalk, which is intended to extend along about 47 miles of the water's edge in the Boston for public use. The Harborwalk cannot run along industrial sites, for safety reasons.

"You don't want mothers with their babies weaving in between cement trucks," Li said.

Port and company officials said two years ago, when they reached preliminary agreement on the project, that it would employ 600 people.

Yesterday, Li said she did not know how many employees there would be at the processing and distribution facilities, but she said eight employees are projected for the cement operation.

Deborah Hadden, deputy port director, said her agency expects the developers to begin construction next year.

To date, the port has been receiving relatively low payments from the developer, but they increase as time goes on.

While a new lease has not been signed, it is expected to include not only a per-square-foot fee but also an amount based on revenues generated by businesses on the land, Hadden said.

"It's a good deal for the port," she said. Rents are expected to be above the $1.50-per-square-foot range that the port has charged recently for short-term uses of the land.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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