By Seth Daniel
Ground broke quietly last September on the Graphic Arts building project, a pioneering project of 171 residential units in two buildings fronting Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue.
It wasn’t a place that many would have wanted to live when Eric Ekman and Berkeley Investments started looking at the site for what they believed would be a great transit-oriented development.
Now, that has changed, and plans around the site have ratcheted up seemingly with every scoop of dirt removed for the new building or every nail hammered in the old Graphic Arts building.
Ekman said late last week that they are very excited with how their project is progressing and how the overall neighborhood is transforming around them.
“It’s a challenging area, but we have great neighbors there and we’re excited about where the Sullivan Square area is going,” he said. “It has a lot of potential and energy now. The Hood Park is taking off. When we started out project, their lot was mostly empty and now it’s full. We think that’s exciting. You also have the Schrafft’s Center improvements, the casino progressing and the Assembly Row project moving along. Sullivan Square area is right in the center of all that. A lot has changed since we first started investigating this project. We’re excited about that and we like the Charlestown neighborhood.”
Right now, Ekman said they are focusing their efforts on restoring the old Graphic Arts building into 46 traditional loft units and a sizeable retail space.
They have replaced windows and sandblasted the interior, restoring masonry and putting in rough utilities.
“The existing building is a pretty exciting building to be working on,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a perfect adaptive re-use building for lofts because it has 14-foot high ceilings and large beams…It’s a very unique space and exciting to see it come back to its restored character.”
Already, they have had one surprise, he said, in that the brick inside on the walls isn’t the traditional red brick. In fact, it’s a very rare soft-grey brick they discovered after sandblasting the interior.
“We did have a surprise in that we thought the brick was just painted grey, but after sandblasting, we realized it’s all grey block inside. We weren’t sure about it as first, but now that it’s fully sandblasted, we are very pleased how it looks.”
The ceilings will retain their industrial character with steel and wood beams, and steel columns from the floor to ceiling playing a major part in the interior design of the units.
He said they are also excited about the sizeable retail space, which he believes will help bring people from the neighborhood to the project. He said it could be a restaurant, pub or even a bakery/café.
The second part of the project includes a new building adjacent to the Graphic Arts building. Already, the former one-story industrial building that was used by the Graphic Arts company has been demolished.
Ekman said they are working on digging the foundation for that building right now, but that the real excitement there will be in April when they bring in large modules that will comprise the building – which will house 125-units and a 97-spot parking facility.
“It will be the largest modular project in Boston,” he said. “When the deliveries begin coming it will be exciting to watch and that will happen soon. The building will go up really quick.”
Ekman stressed that the project also is heavy on amenities, which are essential in today’s residential apartment market. Some of the amenities include ample bike parking, a yoga studio, fitness rooms and a Club Room – as well as generous outdoor spaces. For the outdoor spaces, many of the old timbers in the demolished building were salvaged, and will be used to build furniture and other amenities in the outdoor courtyard, Ekman said.
Overall, the project is slated to be completed in the fall of 2018, and Ekman said his company couldn’t be happier with their pioneering investment in an area that they believe is ready to really take off.
“It’s an exciting and unique project in my opinion because you have this adaptive re-use building with character and high ceilings that’s tied to the industrial past along with the new construction. It is the best of two worlds.”