Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ferdinand's in Dudley Square

Engaged citizens of Roxbury testified Monday night about the development of Ferdinand's Complex in Dudley Square at a public hearing called by Councilor Chuck Turner.

First, Kairos Shen, Director of Planning for the BRA, gave a brief presentation. It is the Mayor's goal, he said, in this term in office to tackle some of the most challenging projects left undone. The Mayor has tasked the BRA with coming up with a plan for Ferdinand's by the end of 2010.

The City had been looking at the project as something it would develop alone as a capital investment project, Shen said. The City and BRA would like to build something that is the best possible solution for the area and, due to the state of the economy has had to scale back earlier, larger plans to a smaller project of 80,000-125,000 square feet, he said. Even this smallest project would cost an estimated $110 million, which is what the City usually spends in an entire year on capital investment projects, he said. The BRA is currently engaged in exploring a palette of other options including partnering with developers or having developers lead the project.

Then, engaged Roxbury had its say and here are a few excerpts.

Donovan Walker, "a person who has been trying to develop Dudley and Roxbury for the last six years" said the site needs a mixed use 20 story hi-rise, with expensive condos on the upper levels, offices in the middle, and retail and restaurants on the ground. To develop the building into offices which close at 5 p.m. would be a big mistake, he said.

Karl Nurse, Chairman of the Massachusetts Black Business Alliance, used the development of Faneuil Hall as an analogy for developing Dudley. The "(Roxbury) community has always been investing and it can move in that direction," he said regarding the generation of capital for the project.

Kelley Chunn who runs a marketing business out of Hibernian Hall said that where there is a will there is a way and developing Ferdinand's is simply a matter of political will. She said it's "only fair that the wheel turn around and we get our moment", and that positive change be aggressively fostered in Dudley Square, as it has been in other parts of the city.

Fred Fairfield, who developed the old Roxbury Boy's Club, told of how as a child he would walk with his mother each week to Ferdinand's to make a layaway payment on the furniture she bought there. At 70 years of age, he hopes to be able to show a vibrant new Ferdinand's to his 6-year-old granddaughter before she becomes a grandmother.

Joyce Stanley, of Dudley Square Main Streets described herself as a preservationist and would consider it a loss to the city if the Ferdinand's building is lost. "We have the world in Dudley," she said, referring to the rich cultural diversity in the area, and the Ferdinand's development is an opportunity for the city to celebrate new immigrants as well as all the people who live and work in the city.

Barry Gaither of Williams Street called for a re-imagining of Ferdinand's that is creative and provocative. The development, he said, should be a dramatic, interesting and visually compelling building which creates some excitement in the Square.

Sarah Ann Shaw said she was having deja vu all over again. "We come to meetings, we are promised over and over again and nothing happens. If you say you'll do something, keep your word. Too many promises have been broken".

Jamarhl Crawford called on the BRA and the city councilors present (Linehan, Turner, Arroyo) to use their influence to get the police to push the drugs and prostitution out of Dudley so the district is attractive to new business.

Nadine Nelson, Dudley resident and small business owner said if you look at a map of Boston, Roxbury looks like a heart and it is the heart of the hub and the way that Dudley has been neglected is a "metaphor for the treatment of people of color". People don't want to come here, she said, and she can't understand how the South End and JP, both "sketchy" places at one time, have improved while Dudley "can't change". "I do feel safe here because there's no one here," she said. "I want to be able to spend my money here".

Councilor Chuck Turner said that rather than look to white developers to finance the project, black business leaders need to step forward with capital.

Councilor Felix Arroyo said that it's important that the project be finished so it can help to reconcile "the public perception of Dudley and the reality of Dudley, two different things".

The whole shebang was videotaped and information on viewing it may be found here.

Ferdinand's, established in 1869, was once "the oldest and largest furniture store in New England", according to its facade, and Dudley Square had a history as a bustling, vibrant cultural and economic center.

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