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South End landscape getting a rapid makeover

Major projects on tap for Albany, Harrison corridor

Once redeveloped, the area around the former Boston Herald site will be dubbed the 'Ink Block.' (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff) Once redeveloped, the area around the former Boston Herald site will be dubbed the "Ink Block."
By Jay Fitzgerald
Globe Correspondent / March 13, 2012
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The industrial edge of the South End near the Massachusetts Turnpike has long been on the cusp of transformation. But now, change appears to be happening even faster than city officials and residents could have ever hoped.

Anchored by the dramatic rebuilding of the former Boston Herald property, the corridor of blocks between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street could soon host more than 1,000 new units of housing, dozens of new storefronts, improved roads, and new smaller roadways and sidewalks carved out of the large industrial blocks that dominate the area.

One developer, Nordblom Co., is eyeing a major new apartment and retail complex across the street from the planned redevelopment of the Herald site, while other developers are either changing or exploring additional mixed-use projects in the area.

“It’s absolutely amazing what’s happening to that area,’’ said Justin Krebs, a principal at Normandy Real Estate Partners, whose firm has a massive development on Albany Street that could get underway this year. “It’s all coming together quite fast.’’

At least four major properties are in different stages of redevelopment in this gritty area between Chinatown and South End proper. The most significant is the former Herald block between Harrison and Albany. National Development has announced it will demolish the old two-story newspaper facility and replace it with four new buildings containing 475 apartments and 85,000 square feet of retail space.

The development firm has dubbed the new project the “Ink Block,’’ in honor of its former occupant, which relocated to the Seaport district earlier this year.

Around the corner from the Herald site, at 275 Albany St., Normandy is considering revising an early building plan and going with an apartment tower and separate hotel, with ground-floor restaurants and retail on what are now parking lots.

Normandy previously planned two hotels on the site, but Krebs said the market will not support both, so the firm is thinking of replacing one with a 16-story apartment building. The firm expects to file a revised proposal with city officials this year, and could begin construction then or in early 2013 on its already-approved nine-story extended-stay hotel at the site, Krebs said.

Nordblom Co., which is also redeveloping its massive Northwest Park office campus in Burlington, is apparently planning a major redevelopment of the two-acre Graybar electronics site at 345 Harrison Ave. The real estate firm has the property under agreement, with the deal expecting to close within about a month, according to people who have been briefed on its terms.

Executives at Nordblom declined to discuss their tentative plans, saying they have not yet finalized the purchase of the property.

But Randi Lathrop, deputy director of planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said Nordblom officials have told the city their redevelopment plans include new apartments, ground-floor restaurants, and retail shops. The site is directly across from the “Ink Block’’ redevelopment of the old Herald site.

Nordblom has already redeveloped the neighboring property at 1000 Washington St., former headquarters for semiconductor supplier Teradyne, into office space that is nearly fully leased to state agencies and private tenants.

Ted Tye, managing partner at National Development, said the tentative changes are almost breathtaking in scope, considering that the area has been largely untouched for more than 50 years.

“There’s so much happening - and a lot more will keep happening,’’ said Tye, whose firm hopes to start construction of the “Ink Block’’ by next year.

The fourth property is the one most up in the air. Owned by the Druker Cos., it is at the corner of East Berkeley and Washington streets and now hosts a service station and parking lot. Druker said it has no immediately plans, but city officials said they have been told the developer wants to put apartments and retail shops there.

City officials say that a recently approved new master zoning plan for the area they call the Harrison Albany Corridor has helped spur all this new development. The zoning plans allow for taller buildings in the area, more park space, a greater mixture of developments, and reconfiguration of some roads and pedestrian walkways so that blocks are not as big as now.

Since several of the redevelopment plans have not been formally submitted, most local residents do not have much information on the scale of changes coming to the neighborhood. The one project under formal review by the city is that at the old Herald site, and South End and Chinatown residents have so far largely embraced the new buildings proposed by National Development.

One local businessman and longtime resident, Jeffrey Gates, would eagerly welcome any redevelopment that would make the Harrison-Albany Corridor “a more vibrant, mixed neighborhood.’’

Gates is a partner at the Aquitaine Group, which owns many popular restaurants in the South End. His company is planning to open another establishment, Cinquecento, at 500 Harrison Ave., the site of the former Rocca restaurant. “It’ll be great if all these [developments] contribute to the area,’’ Gates said.

The 1115 Washington St. property, at the corner with East Berkeley, is home to a service station and parking lot. It is also across from Ming’s Super Market and the popular Myers + Chang restaurant.

City officials said Druker has expressed interest in developing apartments and shops at 1115 Washington St.

But company president Ronald Druker said he has not decided what to do there.

“At some point when we decide the market is right, we’ll do it,’’ said Druker, who served on the committee that helped review and refine the Harrison-Albany Corridor master plan.

“We’re excited about the South End. But we have no plans right now.’’

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