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Southie's Boston Edison Plant to Become Mixed-Use Development

The distinctive pick-and-red smokestacks of the Boston Edison Plant, which have become a landmark of sorts in South Boston, will soon be no more. Assuming that preliminary plans unfold as expected, the site will eventually become a sprawling mixed-use development that is sure to transform this section of the city. Although groundbreaking isn't expected until sometime in 2018, it is never too early to start making plans. If you think that you may want to make the new development your home, Boston City Properties can help.

Technically, the only functioning section of the site that is left is the New Boston Generating Station, which is only used on a limited basis. For all intents and purposes, the station only kicks on during periods of peak electricity consumption. The station is not an integral part of the local electrical grid, which is a good thing because if it were, this upcoming project may have been an impossibility. If developers have their way, this rarely used natural gas plant will be transformed into a thriving live-work-play concept within a handful of years--and Southie will never be the same.

Situated on a 15-acre parcel at the corner of East First and Summer streets, the site was acquired by Northbrook, Illinois-based Hilco Global, a financial services holding company, for $24.25 million in April 2016. The move put to rest the rampant speculation about who would end up with the site, which had been going on for some time.

The site in question is truly a prime piece of real estate, as it is also located on the Reserved Channel, a narrow stretch of water that extends to Boston Harbor and that is currently used as a port of call for Cruiseport Boston. It is also within close proximity of the Summer Street bridge, which connects locals to the Seaport District. Given the prominent nature of the site, a great deal of care is being taken in its redevelopment.

Currently, the project is in its very earliest stages. According to the most recent update, a structural engineer has been assessing the various buildings on the site to determine their structural integrity and the like. Presumably, some of this assessment is likely being conducted to figure out which elements can be incorporated into the development's design too. Part of the very preliminary plans calls for retaining at least some of the historical architectural elements of the site, so when it is finished, there should still be a sense of what used to sit at the site. This is in keeping with the overall effort to retain Boston's historical heritage.

During one of the community meetings that was held regarding the project, Hilco and Redgate outlined what they called "eight guiding principles" that the project would follow as it unfolds. Clearly, the developers want to be certain that local residents are pleased with the project, and that they don't feel like it is transforming Southie too much. By considering these eight principles, we can gain a better understanding of the shape that this mixed-use development will ultimately hold. Here's a quick rundown of those eight principles and what they could mean for the project:

1. Decommission and Continue Cleaning the Site - The site is still being used to some extent, and environmental issues abound. As you will learn a bit later, a lot of work has already been done to make the site more environmentally safe. From the sounds of it, however, a lot more work still needs to be done. Until it is, there may be limitations on the types of zoning that may be allowed, and that could negatively impact the progress of the project.

2. Make the Site More Accessible - Next, developers plan to remove fences and walls around the site to make it more open. They will also create connections into and through the site, ensuring that it is accessible from both the waterfront and from Southie.

3. Create a Concept that Fits in with the Neighborhood - Based on feedback from locals, developers are very conscientious of the importance of designing a development that fits in well with the surrounding area. Southie residents are very proud of their neighborhood, and they don't want it to be completely transformed by this project.

4. Preserve Conley Terminal - The Conley Terminal, which is operated by MassPort, is the only full-service container terminal in New England. When plans were first announced, some were concerned that the project would negatively impact the operation of the terminal. Developers are aware of the situation and will take care to preserve and protect the operation of the terminal during and after development.

5. Include Several Uses and Open Spaces - Developers definitely want to incorporate retail and other uses into the mixed-use development. Precisely which types will be included remains to be seen, but it sounds like they want to make this as all-encompassing as possible. Developers also want to incorporate plenty of open, public spaces for locals to enjoy.

6. Preserve History and Character - Locals want the development to fit in with the overall look and feel of Southie. To accomplish this, developers plan to preserve as many significant building elements as possible. Thus far, no specifics have been given regarding which elements would be retained, but we won't be surprised at all to see a lot of the iconic pink-and-red brickwork stick around. However, the smokestacks will almost certainly be going the way of the dodo.

7. Pedestrian Friendly - Another goal is to make the development as pedestrian friendly as possible and to limit the use of cars. With this in mind, developers plan to emphasize the use of convenient mass transit options in the vicinity. Therefore, we can expect the development to have convenient connections to alternative forms of transportation.

8. Keep it Green and Sustainable - After decades of being the site of many chemical spills and other problems, another crucial goal for the development is to make it as green, sustainable and resilient as possible. We can expect the buildings themselves to be highly sustainable and energy efficient. Developers may even strive for LEED certification; it wouldn't surprise us one bit.

Brief History

The Boston Edison Plant was built in 1892. It started out as a coal plant before switching to oil and, ultimately, natural gas. The plant remained in full operation until 2007, when it was largely put out of commission. As mentioned previously, however, a small generator remains at New Boston Generating station but only goes into use during periods of peak electricity usage.

Through the years, countless chemical releases, spills and other environmental mishaps occurred at the site. In recent years, state and federal agencies have been monitoring the cleanup of the site, which has included the removal of more than 4,500 tons of contaminated soil and the removal of several oil tanks.

In 2015, the EPA announced that cleanup efforts were complete. The agency noted that while the site was officially safe for use as a power plant, other uses may be limited due to continued contamination. This is the type of issue that developers may run into while getting this project underway. Back in 2001, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ordered that part of the site be blocked for housing. Needless to say, this ban will have to be lifted for the project to proceed as planned.

Another potential issue involves the construction of a freight road. The Massachusetts Port Authority plans to build it across the property to move traffic from the Conley Terminal off of First Street. The road will include a small bridge that will run across the water in front of the site. Developers will have to team up with the Port Authority to come up with a viable compromise. As the plans stand now, the proposed road could cause issues and may delay the completion of the project.

A lot of good will come out of the development at the former site of the Boston Edison Plant. This largely industrial section of Southie will finally come into the fold, offering everything from housing to retail to other commercial services. For the project to be officially approved, developers will have to clean the site to the government's liking, so the area will be greatly improved and will ultimately be healthier and safer for everyone--not just those who will live, work and play at the mixed-use development.

What to Expect

Unfortunately, there's a dearth of information out there about what this development will ultimately be like. Specific details have yet to be released, so we aren't even sure how large the development will be or exactly which types of elements will be included. However, we can make some educated guesses by considering how other mixed-use developments have taken shape over the last few years.

Whatever residential element that this development offers will likely consist of condos and/or apartments. There is always a chance that townhouses will be offered, but that is less likely. Residents of the building, whether they rent apartments or own condos, should have direct access to a broad array of amenities and services. We are suspecting that this development will be classified as a luxury condo or apartment development, so you're sure to see many of the amenities and features that you'd find at luxury apartment and condo buildings around the city.

Amenities for residents will likely include on-site parking in a secure garage. It remains to be seen whether the garage will be above ground or below ground. Concierge services will almost certainly be offered, allowing residents to get assistance with everything from arranging babysitting to scheduling travel plans. Given its prime location on the Reserved Channel and near the Harbor, the development will almost certainly include some sort of rooftop deck or terrace. In similar developments, these rooftop areas serve as gathering places, and they afford incredible views of the surrounding area.

As a mixed-use development, the former Boston Edison site will offer more than residential units. Retail is already being cited as one of the types of uses that the development will include. Most likely, retail will be located on the ground floor, so that the development serves as a sort of shopping district. Like many mixed-use developments in the city, this one could very include an upscale hotel. Odds are that it will also include a movie theater and other types of entertainment.

No word has yet been given on whether office space will be included in the development, but it seems highly likely. As mentioned earlier, developers clearly want to incorporate as many different uses into this upcoming mixed-use development, so it will probably include plenty of Class A office space. Plans already call for plenty of open spaces, which will be open to the entire neighborhood. We are sure that the development will provide much-needed streetscape improvements to the area as well.