Will the Dudley Municipal Center Project Revitalize Roxbury?

The Roxbury community has a 300-year-long history, starting out as a colonial town and later, in the 19th century, becoming part of the city of Boston. Currently, Roxbury is a low-income neighborhood at a crossroads, embarking on significant inner- city urban development in a recessionary environment.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has started to address the conditions of economic disparity within nieghborhoods via implementing urban developent. Menino elaborated in a March 2, 2011 press release that Dudley Square will be the first neighborhood in which the city will work to improve the local economy by provding jobs, relocating city departments, and providing housing.
Menino’s strategy of relocating the Boston public schools headquarters closer to students and parents in Roxbury represents an efficent communications-management improvement which will ultimately upgrade the under-performing city public schools. At the same time that development is occurring, a high unemployment rate exists in Roxbury, which the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) found to be 10 to 11 percent in a multi-neighborhood survey. This amount of unemployment is way too high for a struggling neighborhood with a poverty rate of 26 percent.
The Boston Schools Department will move its headquarters into the Dudley Square Municipal Building Complex incorporating the Ferdinand Furniture Building, the Curtis Block and the Waterman & Sons Buildings with a completion timeframe of mid- 2014. This project has a $115 million budget and will bring 400 BPS employees to Roxbury.

Over seven years in the planning, the project has created a series of partnerships with community groups like the Dudley Square Vision Advisory Task Force, and funding collaborations with Affirmative Investments, Inc., to secure New Market Tax Credits. The Boston Industrial Financing Authority issued a tax-exempt bond to fund the project. They also have a builder, Shawmut Design and Construction, which started construction in March of 2012. A master plan for Dudley Square has been created by the mayor and his staff. Additionally, the city has worked with community groups and created an advisory committee to ensure accessability. This city master plan involves all of the participating stakeholders working together.

The Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility plan relies on all of the community stakeholders working in tandem, but it does not resemble a community benefits agreement. Community benefits agreements, or CBAs, are contracts signed between community groups and a developer which require the developer to provide improvements while mitigating disruption to the community involved. This development model was created in the 1990s on the west coast as a way to allow communities to get involved in projects and participate in the planning.

A second type of CBA involves an institution like an authority or local city government sponsoring a project. The Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility plan has similarities to a government-sponsored CBA, but in actuality is a Good Neighborhood Agreement. Even though the City of Boston is sponsoring the project — meaning they have created a master plan, worked out a budget, provided the funding and found a developer — the plan does not address the community needs of construction jobs, sub- contracting, and community space provided by the project. The strengths of a CBA are that the stakeholders participate in the planning process, making sure their concerns are heard and addressed. The weaknesses of such a plan are that negotiations are limited and there is no mitigation of environmental concerns or provisions for community space.
The Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility plan outlines the relocation of the Boston Public Schools headquarters to Roxbury with over 400 jobs. It does not address how the projected 350 construction workers will be hired for the project. The Dudley Square Vision Advisory Task Force has created a mentoring process for the construction so far, but community groups and residents are still concerned about getting some of the jobs.

In a CBA agreement, such as the one used for the Los Angeles Staples Center, job numbers, guidelines, and the mechanism of how jobs will be filled are spelled out. In a $115 million project like the Dudley Square Municipal Building Complex, the guidelines for how construction and other projects must be negotiated should be spelled out, so that all stakeholders and residents have a chance to benefit from the incoming jobs.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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