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Developers Remove Building From $5B Boston Waterfront Project After Pushback

One of the biggest projects planned in Boston, a 6M SF waterfront development in Dorchester, has moved slowly through the approval process as it has received community pushback. But a newly submitted plan aims to address those concerns. 

Developer Accordia Partners and partner Ares Management filed revised plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency Tuesday for the $5B Dorchester Bay City development that would scrap one 350K SF building, add new open space and increase the number of affordable units. 

A rendering of Accordia's $5B Dorchester Bay City project.

“A key comment we heard throughout the process is that we were not sufficiently maximizing the potential impact of pairing green space on our site with existing publicly accessible space managed by DCR and the city of Boston,” Accordia Partners co-Managing Partner Kirk Sykes said in a release.

Accordia’s new plan would replace one 350K SF building near the shoreline with a 6,300 SF public pavilion and open space. It would also move two other buildings farther from the shoreline by 15 to 30 feet, The Dorchester Reporter first reported. The new open space, named the Dorchester Green and the Dorchester Bay Esplanade, would be 3.5 acres and would increase the total to nearly 20 acres of open and green space.

“I know that [residents] will be receptive to losing that building because it was one that some were very uncomfortable with because it was one of the buildings that was too close to the water’s edge,” Boston City Councilor Frank Baker told Bisnow

If approved, the project would deliver in five phases over an estimated 15 years. It is broken up into two major sites: the Bayside site and the 2 Morrissey site. The Bayside site would include 1,405 residential units, 2.3M SF of office and research space, and 146K SF of retail. The Morrissey site would include 552 residential units, 1.6M SF of office and research space, and 34K SF of retail space.

The decision to scrap one building comes as Accordia has sought to highlight that its project adds less density than some of the other large-scale developments in the city.

“We are about 40% less dense than the Seaport Square project, 35% less dense than Fan Pier,” Sykes said at an advisory meeting in March. “We put a priority on not just more green space but on consolidating green space that leads from the T to the sea.” 

The development has received some pushback from residents and community advocacy groups.

A second rendering of the Dorchester Bay City project.

In May, activists delivered a petition to Mayor Michelle Wu asking for a six-month pause in the development review of the project because they said its proposed affordability level — 15% of units for residents making up to 60% of the area median income — wasn't substantial enough for the area.

In Tuesday's updated filing, Accordia raised its level of affordability to 20% at up 70% AMI. Now, 391 units would be classified as affordable under the city’s official definition.

“We also took every possible opportunity to further enhance the major benefits of this project important to the community, particularly housing affordability and transportation infrastructure,” Sykes said in the release.

The project still has more hurdles to clear before going vertical. Baker said the BPDA’s process has slowed the project. 

“I’m hearing that they’re coming around to approvals, but when that is I don’t really know,” Baker said. “There have been so many transitions that have happened. The process is a little gummed up and slowed down.”

The developer is also increasing the amount of community funding it plans to provide, addressing a concern that residents raised at the March meeting.

“I want to make sure, for my community, this development is what we need and it does not have a drastic impact,” Desmond Rohan, one of the Morrissey Boulevard Community Advisory Committee members, said at the March meeting. “I want to see success here, and I think we are there, but I just want to see a little more compromise.”

Accordia has committed to providing $18M in funding toward workforce training and economic opportunity programs, a total of $36.8M in contributions to off-site transportation infrastructure improvements, and a new 8K SF learning and innovation center.

A map of the Dorchester Bay City development from the Feb. 17, 2022, meeting about the proposal.

The Dorchester Bay City project was first proposed in March 2020 on land owned by the University of Massachusetts Building Authority. UMBA acquired the 36-acre site, which housed the vacant Bayside Expo Center, for $18.7M in 2010 after it went into foreclosure. In 2017 UMBA issued a request to gauge private developer interest in the site. 

In February 2019, Accordia and its partner, Ares Management, won the bid for the site. When the development is complete, UMass Boston and UMBA are expected to receive a projected $240M to benefit the university's Boston campus. 

In December 2021, Accordia struck a deal with the Boston Teachers Union, which has its headquarters next to the site. The deal would incorporate the BTU property into the development, adding three buildings that would be a mix of retail, commercial and research space. The plan would include a five-story, 81K SF office building to serve as the union's new headquarters. 

The Morrisey Boulevard area near the DBC site has been rampant with development activity.

In August, developer Center Court Mass filed plans for a 1.6M SF, seven-building development at 35-75 Morrisey Blvd. Next door sits Beacon Capital's $362M, 700K SF redevelopment of the former Boston Globe headquarters.

“Coming off of JFK Station, there’s a couple of millions of square feet of what looks to be lab space and housing,” Baker said. “That’s all before you get over to the UMass site. There’s a lot happening in this one little area, and it’s very exciting.” 

UPDATE, DEC. 16, 3:35 P.M. ET: This story has been updated with more recent renderings of the Dorchester Bay City project from Accordia Partners.