-By Luke O’Neill
A business innovation center is one proposal being floated for Charlestown’s long-vacant Pier 5 in the Navy Yard. Several other development proposals for the prized pier are expected to roll in as the Boston Redevelopment Authority plans to issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks.
The prime but decrepit pier, jutting out into Boston Harbor with a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, will likely garner significant interest from several developers.
“All of the big players in the Boston development scene are going to be bidding on this thing,” said Tom Cunha, Charlestown Neighborhood Council chairman, at a March 23 meeting to discuss the pier. “This is a huge opportunity for the developers. It’s a very, very advantageous piece of property in the City of Boston right now.”
The March 23 CNC development committee meeting, attended by 60 to 70 Navy Yard residents and other interested Charlestown residents, was a chance to share ideas and discuss possible pier projects. Many residents seemed to favor turning the pier into a park, but they also acknowledged that city planners would want to reap the revenue that a condo development would generate on the pier.
But another proposal that received positive reviews was R. Gregg Nourjian’s idea to build an 80,000-square-foot business innovation center on the pier. Nourjian – a partner at Spinnaker Venture Partners, a venture development group – said the business incubator could provide “some beneficial revenue for the BRA and is something they might agree to.”
The LEED-certified center, he said, could be a public-private partnership or nonprofit entity that would foster business innovation among universities, entrepreneurs, start-up firms and corporate research and development teams. Another goal for the center, said Nourjian, would be to attract large corporations that would get involved with smaller companies that are trying to innovate and create new technologies and business models.
“I want it to be a landmark facility,” he said. “We would have a hands-on approach to helping build companies and not just providing space.”
He added that he’s “looking to build something that fits in with the environment that the whole community can use that creates open space for people and interactive opportunities.”
Shared, open space is also part of Nourjian’s proposal. The center’s lobby, he said, would be open to the public and could feature a small museum and tourist attraction. The rest of the pier, or Pier 5 Plaza as Nourjian called it, would feature a park at the end of the pier and perhaps a small cafe and bistro.
“A lot of the components of this are little pieces of what people would like to see all combined into one concept,” he said.
Many people at the meeting warmed to the idea of the center or at least found the concept “interesting” and “intriguing.”
“I like the concept; I like the idea,” said Cunha. “[But] is it real? Is there really money there [to fund the project] or are we just hoping?” Cunha also expressed concern about the turnaround time of the project, especially since the center could rely heavily on public-private partnerships.
Nourjian said he hopes to get grants, federal money and possibly tax credits to help fund the project but also acknowledged his proposal needs more research and legwork.
Additionally, it is estimated that it would cost $15 million just to refurbish the dilapidated pier.
Ivey St. John of the Charlestown Waterfront Coalition said the coalition’s steering committee endorsed the business innovation project unanimously. She encouraged the BRA and the CNC to support further development of the concept for the center.
“Clearly it’s not yet viable,” she said of the center, “but we’d like to see [Nourjian] be given the time to really get it together.”
Mark Rosenshein, CNC development committee chair, called the plan an intriguing idea, but said the council would still need to see all the projects planned for the pier before the council endorses a particular plan.
After the RFP goes out, interested developers will have 60 days to submit their proposals. The RFP requires a $10,000 refundable deposit.
Cunha said after the RFP goes out, eight to 15 “major ideas” could come back. He encouraged the community, particularly Navy Yard residents, to stay involved in the pier planning process.
Meanwhile, the pier still sits vacant, strewn with dried weeds, cracked pavement and moss.