For decades, Columbia Point was an isolated peninsula of Boston that failed to attract much in the way of new redevelopment, despite its location on a prime strip of waterfront overlooking Dorchester Bay.
But a burst of building activity is now promising to transform many of its stubbornly under-used and vacant properties into new housing communities, retail stores, restaurants, and striking academic and cultural buildings.
“Nobody could imagine these possibilities a few decades ago,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, recalling when Columbia Point was home to a crime-ridden housing project that few outsiders dared to enter. “Now it has the potential to be a great walkable neighborhood through a balance of residential and retail development.
In the past few weeks developers have filed plans for more than 450 apartments on Morrissey Boulevard and Mount Vernon Street. UMass Boston is in the midst of a $700 million expansion, Boston College High School is proceeding with a new arts and athletic center, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate is under construction near the waterfront.
City officials are also planning to build new roads and add bike lanes and walking paths to improve circulation around the neighborhood.
The 400-acre peninsula already hosts more than 1,500 mixed-income housing units that replaced the former Columbia Point housing project, which was notoriously violent and nearly uninhabitable by the time of its demolition in the mid 1980s. Although the area has come a long way since then, plenty of work remains.
While served by an MBTA station and easy access to Interstate 93, Columbia Point still feels cut off from the rest of the city--partly due to the wide roadways that bisect the area. It has few retail options, and its picturesque waterfront is hidden behind buildings that do not always take advantage of the views.
A 2011 master plan commissioned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority calls for a mix of commercial and residential redevelopment on several properties between Interstate 93 and the waterfront. The plan emphasizes the need for ground-floor retail shops and restaurants to create more active commercial streets. It also calls for towers as high as 17 stories next to the JFK/UMass MBTA station, with the buildings to step down in height as they get closer to residential South Boston.
Planned transportation improvements include the extension of Old Colony Avenue to the T station, and construction of a new street that would extend from the Shaw’s Supermarket across Morrissey Boulevard to Mount Vernon Street. That street would continue to Day Boulevard, providing an alternative to the often-clogged elevated traffic circle at the entrance to the neighborhood.
The first major project near the MBTA station was submitted last week by developer David Greaney of Synergy Investments, who wants to build 278 apartments on a weed-covered lot along Morrissey Boulevard next to Shaw’s Supermarket. The $60 million project would include two 5 1/2 story buildings, a courtyard, gym, club room and parking garage.
Rents for the apartments — a mix of studios and lofts, and as well as one- and two-bedroom units — are expected to range from $1,200 to just over $2,000 a month.
“This is a good market for people who work in the city, but can’t afford to live right downtown,” he said. “Our building is going to have a modern, hip design, and we think it will appeal to a lot of different people.”
Greaney, whose company also owns the Shaw’s plaza, said he hopes to add a second phase that could include more housing and additional retail stores.
And just a few yards down Morrissey Boulevard car dealer Herb Chambers wants to open a BMW dealership on the former Channel 56 property next to The Boston Globe. Meanwhile over on Mount Vernon St, Developer Corcoran Jennison Cos. is proposing to build 170 apartments on a parking lot in front of the company’s office building. The six-story complex would include a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units, underground parking garage, and retail stores at street level.
The company was a pioneer in Columbia Point’s redevelopment, building the 1,280-unit Harbor Point housing community and the 335-unit Peninsula apartment complex at 401 Mount Vernon. Michael Corcoran said he hopes this next wave of building will bring new shops, restaurants and entertainment to the area.
“With all the housing and the plans at UMass, we think there will be good demand for retail here,” Corcoran said. “We’re encouraged by the feelers we’ve put out so far.”Continued...