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Inside The South Boston Edison Power Plant, A 2M SF Mixed-Use Development-In-Waiting

The twin smokestacks of the old Edison Power Plant have lorded over the South Boston waterfront for decades. But over the next 10 to 15 years, they will be replaced by an enormous mixed-use project developers say will be completely different from anything in the nearby Seaport.

The decommissioned Edison Power Plant in South Boston.

“We heard loud and clear that the neighborhood does not want this site to look and feel like the Seaport or even West Broadway,” said Ralph Cox, principal at real estate development firm Redgate.

Redgate is partnering with developer Hilco Global to redevelop the decommissioned power plant at South Boston’s eastern gateway. The two companies purchased the 15-acre site from energy company Exelon Corp. in April 2016 for $24M.

They filed a letter of intent with the Boston Planning and Development Agency in late April outlining their plan to connect the land to the rest of the neighborhood. Eight new buildings will be constructed while some of the original buildings will be rehabilitated, including an adaptive reuse of the 1903 Edison Turbine Hall. 

Rendering of redevelopment at the intersection of Summer and First in South Boston

“It’s very seldom you get a chance to redevelop something that’s been walled off from the rest of the neighborhood since 1898,” Cox said. “The anticipation of what could go there made this a profound opportunity.”

The site dates back to the late 1800s when it first opened as a coal power plant. It went through stints over more than a century generating oil power and eventually natural gas. While it has served little purpose apart from being a neighborhood landmark since 2007, Exelon would still utilize small parts of the plant during times of high electricity demand. Since early 2017, its new owners have met extensively with neighbors in a public engagement process to get an idea of what is wanted and what should be avoided.

A rendering of the proposed waterfront plaza in front of the former Edison Power Plant in South Boston.

“It’s a good business practice to have the community getting involved in getting to know you and your idea,” Cox said.

Through open houses and walking tours of the turbine hall and surrounding land, Redgate/Hilco has mapped out with South Bostonians initial concepts for the site, which they want to envelop with a strong arts and culture scene. While the soaring, salmon-colored building might come down, the original 1903 brick structure will be restored and could be home to a food hall and waterfront plaza with sculptors and artisans selling products to neighbors.

Inside the 1903 Edison Turbine Hall, which Cox said will be restored in an initial phase of redevelopment

“We are enthusiastic and passionate about getting it right as it starts coming to life in the next 18 to 24 months and thereafter,” Cox said. “This is a big responsibility we are taking seriously.”

Neighbors have expressed concern regarding the cleanliness and safety of the former heavy industrial site, but the land has already had years of extensive cleanup. Cox said the developers are going through a careful process to make sure it is healthy and safe. 

“There has been an enormous amount of research before we acquired it,” Cox said. “Cleanup will continue. So if we want to open a day care on the site, we can safely.”  

Redgate principal Ralph Cox said the development team hopes to transform the Edison Turbine Hall into a food hall.

A residential component, farmers market and boutique hotel are also expected to be a part of the project at full build-out. While Cox said he expects 70% to 80% of the visitors to the site to be neighbors from South Boston, transportation is still a concern. 

Exterior of the Edison Turbine Hall, which will be home to a waterfront plaza

Redgate and Hilco are looking to partner with the South Boston community and its elected officials to advocate for better MBTA services in the neighborhood. Walking and biking will also be vital ways to get neighbors to and from the site, Cox said. 

“There's no question that Southie needs better public transit options, and more of them,” Cox said. “We have already started looking at better bus service and possibly water transportation."