While it won’t be the site of an Olympic stadium, Widett Circle is still a hot spot in the Greater Boston real estate discussion. A Tuesday morning panel discussion at Suffolk University focused on the industrial parcel on the South Boston-South End border.
If Boston had wound up hosting the 2024 Olympics, the temporary stadium would have come down once the games ended. Widett Circle and its adjacent lots—complete with a big deck to cover MBTA tracks—would have been transformed into a new mixed use development flush with housing, retail, office space, and more. The panel event, hosted by Suffolk and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, sought to pick up where the bid left off when it was withdrawn in late July.
The bidding plans relied on relocating the New Boston Food Market, a co-operative of meat and seafood distribution companies that was caught off-guard when members learned their land had been targeted as an Olympic venue. (They were similarly miffed last week, when representatives complained that Suffolk had not invited any of the business owners to participate on the panel.) Over the course of the bidding process, representatives of the co-op suggested they would be open to a move under the right circumstances.
One Widett Circle business owner on Tuesday said that remains the case. During a question and answer session near the end of the event, Bruce Rodman, who owns Cambridge Packing Company, said he and other owners ’’would be happy’’ with moving to a new home, “as long as we’re treated fairly.’’ Rodman said his chief concern was the lack of certainty.
“We need to know where we’re going to be in a few years,’’ he said.
Rodman said many owners are interested in a 30-acre parcel in Boston’s Seaport owned by Massport, which the agency is planning to put to bid, and which Olympic bidding officials had suggested could become a new home for the companies. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had suggested that if the companies moved there, they could model their operations after Pike Place, a popular marketplace and tourist attraction in Seattle.
In an interview following the panel, Rodman said he is “not emotionally tied to the property’’ in Widett Circle, and that moving would allow his company to grow. The Seaport location would preserve his access to downtown and the highway, which he said is key for making deliveries to restaurant and hotel customers.
But some members of the panel put forward a vision of the neighborhood that did not require the the companies to move. Instead, the area could grow around its existing industrial use, they said.
“I would be thinking about how do you embrace it?’’ said Rick Dimino, the CEO of the planning advocacy nonprofit A Better City.
Architect David Lee also suggested the companies could function alongside other types of real estate. He said one example could be to combine industrial and residential uses in the same area, or even in the same buildings.
“Industrial lives matter,’’ Lee said, noting that recent residential developments in Greater Boston have seemed to focus on young professionals.
Susan Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, which represents more than 200 businesses in the broader neighborhood surrounding Widett Circle, said she was skeptical residential and industrial uses could co-exist, because of the noise and operational needs of industry.
“Does residential mix with industrial?’’ she said. “It’s very, very difficult.’’
But Sullivan agreed that the companies could be integrated into a broader development that also involved other industrial and commercial uses.
“There are ways we could go vertically,’’ she said. “Innovative industrial, innovative commercial can go above.’’
Lee and former Boston City Councillor Mike Ross said some people, such as artists or musicians, may see living in an industrial area as advantageous.
Ross seemed more inclined than others on the panel to talk about moving the wholesalers.
“Every great meat packing district evolves,’’ Ross said. “With the right amount of planning we can do a number of different things.’’
Ross said any development in the area should come as part of a broad planning process. (Walsh has said he still supports the idea of redeveloping Widett Circle, and his office recently began a master planning process called Imagine Boston 2030, led by the city’s top Olympic bid official.)
Ross noted that the New England Revolution have sought a home in one of the parcels adjacent to Widett Circle, which is currently a tow lot for the city of Boston. He said that a soccer stadium could serve as a “buffer’’ between industrial and residential developments in the area.
What a Boston Olympics would have looked like: