THE SOUTH End’s soaring lofts and charming row houses may be mostly populated by well-heeled urbanites and their well-groomed pets, but pockets of the neighborhood are still plagued by petty crime and prostitution, especially along certain sparse stretches of Harrison Avenue and Albany Street. If the Boston Herald moves out of its longtime headquarters in the neighborhood later this year, as the Newton-based developer National Development expects it will, an empty slice of the South End will be even more barren. The right development on the 6-acre site could help this part of the neighborhood flicker back to life with new residents and businesses.
National Development has submitted plans to the city for a mixed-use complex to be built over the Herald building’s current footprint. If approved, the building would amount to a yuppie gentrifier’s dream: Up to 270 residential units, small commercial spaces for boutique shops, one large commercial space big enough for a grocery store, outdoor seating, ample parking, and space reserved for car-share programs and bike-rental kiosks.
Yet some South End residents are arguing that the plan isn’t imaginative enough for such a prime, urban location. Indeed, it’s a good spot to dream big: The city would benefit from a grander gateway connecting the South End to a bustling Chinatown to its north and a rapidly changing South Boston to its east. A better plan would offer more housing units, more commercial space, and ideas to bridge the three neighborhoods separated by expressways.
But without another well-financed proposal on the table, the city should back the plan submitted by National Development, which would be prepared to break ground next year. And South End residents should concentrate on working with the developer to address their concerns.
What the proposal lacks in ambition will be made up for in momentum for the whole area. If the development brings new energy to the barren block, it could serve as a catalyst for other developments in the area, including stalled plans to build a hotel nearby.
Vespa-accessible pet boutiques alone don’t make a neighborhood, but they sure beat nothing.