By Seth Daniel
The One Charlestown development proposal took a big hit in its current form this week when it was confirmed that the financier on the project, Sun-Cal, had backed out and will no longer be part of the team.
That leaves designated developer, Corcoran Jennison, without financing, and Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Director Bill McGonagle said Wednesday that the project isn’t dead, but that Corcoran will be expected to find a new partner to present to the BHA by Jan. 31.
The news was confirmed as rumors of a 30-day ultimatum swirled about the neighborhood last week – rumors that were not true, but did contain a nugget of truth.
“Characterizing anything as do or die is a gross exaggeration,” said McGonagle on Wednesday morning. “I would add though that the Sun-Cal folks are no longer in the picture as a financial partner. I can confirm that. We have indicated to Joe Corcoran that by the end of the month, we would like him to secure another financial partner for our review. It’s not do or die or an ultimatum. The end of the month was a date (Corcoran) said he would need to secure a new financial partner.”
McGonagle said that date of Jan. 31 was put in writing between Corcoran and the BHA, and by that date Corcoran would need to submit a new partner to the BHA for review.
“We expect to be back out in the community in mid-February with more details,” he said.
Jen Corcoran, who has been a spokesperson for the project from day one, confirmed there is no ultimatum and they are still working to get the project right.
“We have not been given any sort of 30-day ultimatum, so I am glad to dispel that rumor,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Right now, we are still working on a few different aspects of the plan to ensure that we come back out with something that is deserving of widespread support from the community. It’s a large, complicated, and important project, and we want to get it right.”
The One Charlestown development came on the scene more than two years ago when a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) was put out to the public by the BHA – an RFP that called for a public-private redevelopment of the 1,110 units of public housing and some component of market-rate housing and retail.
Corcoran responded to that with a proposal to completely demolish the existing Bunker Hill Development and rebuild it with more than 3,000 units of housing and a retail mix. With that winning proposal, Corcoran began working with BHA residents first, but hit a big snag when it was unveiled to the larger community in the fall of 2016. The project went on a hiatus for several months at the request of Mayor Martin Walsh after that, and returned in early 2017, but with even more pushback. By June 2017, the developer and the City agreed to a re-design and a break from reviews. They were supposed to come back in September 2017 with a new project, but never did.
Now, with the news of the long-time financier backing out, some in the community wonder where it leaves the massive redevelopment project.
McGonagle said the BHA is not discouraged and believes the undertaking and concept are still “doable.”
“Obviously, the BHA remains very much committed and optimistic about our ability to re-develop the public housing,” he said. “We are confident we will ultimately be successful. The concept here is new. It has never been tried before. I never expected this concept would be easy, but it doesn’t mean it’s not doable. It is doable and I believe the concept will work.”
Reacting immediately to the news, State Rep. Dan Ryan said he hopes that the news of needing a new financial partner can bring a fresh look to the process.
“My hope is that we can come back and take a fresh look at this, with the information gathered thus far, and move forward,” he said. “Maybe we can approach this in smaller chunks. Three phases over 15 years is a lot to comprehend. Maybe a new approach can focus on Phase 1 specifically, with a vision towards Phases 2 and 3.”
He said he wasn’t surprised there were delays, but that all was not lost in the initial process over the past two years.
“I do believe there have been some meaning conversations thus far,” he said. “And as much as early community meeting participants felt there was too much, too soon the One Charlestown proponents conducted one of the most extensive community processes I’ve seen in my adult lifetime living here.”
McGonagle said in the interim they will continue to look into the what number of units would be the perfect mix for the community and the developer – with that number being the number one source of contention within the community.
“In spite of the lack of community participation while we look for a new partner, we have been very quietly looking at what that sweet spot is, the numbers, that the community can support while at the same time bringing the cash flow to support the deeply affordable units.”