Three years after the city invested more than a $100 million in a landmark building in Roxbury’s Dudley Square neighborhood, some in the community wonder if the project has failed to live up to its promise.
The Bolling Building was pitched as an opportunity for economic development in Dudley Square. But the question still remains three years after the renovation: Is it working?
The building, which is anchored by Boston Public Schools headquarters, has struggled to find stable tenants for vacant retail spaces. And some neighborhood advocates are questioning whether a single building can deliver the kind of economic vibrancy residents want to see.
Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Main Streets, says the larger issue at play is that a building isn't enough to overcome the deeper issue of widespread poverty in the neighborhood because people in the Dudley area have very little to spend.
“We need people with more market-rate income to patronize a place like this so they either have to be living here which means you need more market rate housing or you have to find a way to bring them in,” Stanley said.
Stanley thinks there should be a better way to capitalize on the roughly 30,000 people who commute through Dudley Square every day.
The city’s chief of economic development, John Barros, declined a request for an interview but told WGBH News in 2015 that the plan was to put a street-level restaurant in the Bolling Building.
Stanley says for any businesses to work — particularly one open after business hours — people have to feel comfortable in the neighborhood.
“That’s the elephant in the room ... that we have so many people hanging out doing drugs … openly smoking pot,” she said.
In 2017, there were 11 shots fired inside the lobby of the Bolling Building. Police Commissioner William Gross says that crime happens and that the neighborhood has a strong police presence.
“We have officers there that are familiar with everyone,” Gross said. “They talk to them because, No. 1, there is no such thing as a law against loitering or standing around that’s unconstitutional.”
Biplaw Rai has been running the Dudley Cafe in the Bolling Building since the school department moved in three years ago. He says the neighborhood gets an unfair wrap.
“Business is better than last year,” Rai said. “We are not where we want to be, but it’s picking up and it looks good.”
There is near unanimous agreement that the building would look even better if its largest retail space was filled. The city says that they are in negotiations with a potential tenant now.