By Adam Reilly
June 13, 2012
ROXBURY, Mass. — The quest to rejuvenate Roxbury’s Dudley Square neighborhood just got a major boost. The city has okayed $95 million in new development along Melnea Cass Boulevard, which could transform that stretch from an afterthought to a destination. But while many in Dudley Square welcomed the project — not everyone was on board.
Today they’re a couple of scruffy empty lots bracketing Melnea Cass Boulevard, which thousands of commuters use every day to get on and off Interstate 93. But as Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts head Darnell Williams looked around — he saw potential.
“Boston is such a walkable city — right now I’m looking at the shadows of the Prudential, the Hancock Building, Jim Rice Field. Fenway Park is 8 minutes from here. We’re really centrally located and it just makes sense,” Williams said.
The city seemed to agree. Boston gave the go-ahead to two developers who plan to transform this area by building a hotel, restaurants and residencesand expanding the popular Tropical Foods supermarket. If all those cars driving past started to stop, the project and the neighborhood could thrive.
“Very few of those cars stop to get birthday candles or birthday cards or to have a bite to eat. If we can change that, then that will be a very good thing for Roxbury,” Williams said.
The new development was part of a bigger effort to rejuvenate Dudley Square, which used to be a thriving retail hub but has struggled for decades. While there was plenty of local enthusiasm for the current development push, there was also skepticism.
Kathy Kim, the daughter of a local business owner, worried that new development won’thelp the average man and woman on the street.
“We want developers that understand our community and the struggles we’ve been facing in this community for the last 40 to 50 years ... we need to have CORI-friendly jobs,” Kim said. “We need to have jobs for the residents who’ve been in the community, who have built the foundation of Dudley Square.”
Andy Finkel, whose brother owns a local clothing shop, said the new plans might not be ambitious enough.
“Anything in the Dudley Station Roxbury community is great given the huge unemployment problem and lack of money and business in the community,” Finkel said. “The BRA needs to have some sort of a master plan that has a hub here in Dudley Station, where it used to be really, really vibrant."
But others like Roxbury resident Anjail Mohammed said that on balance — Dudley Square seems to be on the right track.
“I think it’s going in a positive direction,” she said. “The only thing I’d like to see removed is the strip club down the street.”
For his part Williams was happy to accentuate the positive including the promise of much-needed jobs.
“I don’t know if I have definite numbers, I don’t want to speculate,” said Williams. “We’ve got a lot of jobs that should happen on the construction side, post-construction, post-management, that should benefit folks who live here.”
Big plans for a neighborhood that could use a boost.
MORE: REVIVING DUDLEY