September was a sexy month for the future of Boston's landscape. Last week, developers unveiled plans for the magnificent $3 billion Seaport Square — a 20-block, 22-building ode to bourgeois excess to be constructed on the South Boston waterfront. More recently, news broke that owners of the blighted former site of Filene's may take a loss on the Downtown Crossing property, which could activate construction after nearly two years of neglect.
But the Hub's good fortune does not extend to Roxbury, or to residents who filled the Dudley Square public library this past Monday for a hearing with city councilors and Boston Redevelopment Authority Chief Planner Kairos Shen. Many came expecting to hear about new strategies for rebuilding the landmark Ferdinand building after three decades of vacancy, as the facade that remains serves as a morbid, yet metaphoric, "Welcome to Roxbury" greeting post.Instead, with no answers to be had, community members spent two hours expressing frustration over the fact that, despite ongoing construction of a new Dudley police station, plans for the Ferdinand have hardly reached the drawing board.
Once a beloved neighborhood furniture store, and an inviting architectural gateway into Dudley, the Ferdinand is now a broken brick skeleton. Blue boards adorn the windows where beds and couches once were displayed. Behind the original five-story structure, on a 33,000-square-foot lot between Washington and Warren streets, is a ditch to rival the universally scorned crater abutting Filene's.
"We hear a lot about the hole in downtown Boston," said City Councilor-At-Large Ayanna Pressley. "But we need to hear more about the hole in downtown Dudley."
Dudley residents are used to broken promises. Former governor Mitt Romney bailed on his plan to move the State Department of Public Health to the Ferdinand. After those arrangements were scrapped, in 2004, Boston Mayor Tom Menino pledged to reanimate the lot and build municipal offices. Four years later, Menino made the same promise again, even holding a press conference and forming the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force.
"I'm embarrassed that I can't be more specific about the time frame," said Shen, who disappointed Dudley residents with his lack of a timeline this late in the game. Shen added that revitalizing Dudley "is one of those hard tasks that the mayor is committed to tackling," but with the caveat that Boston lacks adequate funding for the at-least $110 million Ferdinand project, and needs significant help from outside interests to move forward. Nonetheless, Shen says Menino hopes to make big decisions about Dudley and the Ferdinand by year's end.
Among the concerns voiced by residents and local activists who testified at the hearing: pending development ideas are inadequate ("To put just a city office building in that space is a crime against this community."); City Hall is asleep on the job ("This is the result of a lack of political will."); Dudley will remain scarred unless a high-concept mixed residential-retail-office complex is delivered soon ("There's a sense that this was once a thriving community, and that now it is not.").
"This is such deja vu," said Roxbury native Sarah-Ann Shaw, Boston's first female African-American television reporter. Shaw serves on the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force, but says the group is unable to form a vision due to stalling on the city's side. "Too many promises have not come to fruition," she continued. "The city has the responsibility to spend whatever is needed to make Roxbury the jewel that [officials] always say it is."