AFTER YEARS of talking about the redevelopment of Dudley Square in Roxbury, Mayor Menino is finally stepping up with a credible plan. The first and most important step will be the $115 million revitalization of the long-vacant Ferdinand Building, which stands at the gateway to the city’s black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
“We will unlock the potential at the Ferdinand, and it will be the catalyst for Dudley redevelopment,’’ Menino told business leaders on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
This wasn’t the first time Menino spoke of renovating the Ferdinand Building to accommodate hundreds of city workers as part of a wider plan to stimulate private development in the area. But it is the first time that City Hall offered specifics about how the project would fit into the city’s overall capital budget and how a partnership with a private development company could ensure the success of the project and limit the city’s financial risk.
Even better, Menino outlined how the plan would fit into his efforts to reduce or consolidate several city-owned administrative office buildings. About 400 of the city’s school department employees would move from their downtown headquarters to a rehabbed Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square. Some of the cost would be covered by the sale or lease of other city-owned properties, including Boston Fire headquarters on Southampton Street.
Dudley Square has a rich history and the potential to be, again, a vital, Main Street-style center of neighborhood commerce. But it also has baggage, including its continuing struggle with crime. Prior efforts to move workers from the state Department of Public Health into the area met with a lot of resistance. But city workers aren’t so nervous. And any Boston school department worker who can’t appreciate the value of locating school headquarters in a neighborhood with thousands of Boston public school pupils shouldn’t be drawing a city payroll check in the first place.
Ideally, Dudley Square would bounce back solely on the strength of private development. In his speech, the 68-year-old Menino recalled his youth when the area was a vibrant retail center. Small businesses and restaurants are returning to the comeback area, which will soon boast a new police station. But public investment in the forms of both construction and city workers will elevate the area to the next level.
There’s a “heard it all before’’ element to the mayor’s announcement. But what used to ring hollow now sounds more solid.