Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: For rent: tiny slice of tony Newbury

Cash-strapped T looks to let a slab of sidewalk

On Boston’s street of boutique businesses, this might be the ultimate boutique space.
Right now the “property’’ on Newbury Street is just a slab of sidewalk, barely a dozen feet wide — 275 square feet in total — tucked against the back end of the Hynes MBTA station and a department store. But its owner, the MBTA, believes it has enough commercial potential that the agency is soliciting proposals from businesses to set up shop there.
“It was a dead space, a missing tooth on Newbury Street,’’ said Boston city Councilor Michael P. Ross, a big booster of putting the concrete slab to more productive use. “There’s no access or use for the MBTA — we can do better than that.’’
Through its real estate arm, Transit Realty Associates, the MBTA is proposing to lease the site for 10 years and wants a minimum rent of $24,750 for the first year. The deadline for bids is July 1.
However, there are no utilities to the location, and the winning bidder would be responsible for building its own facilities. And, no pushcarts.
The lease is part of the MBTA’s effort to solve its longstanding financial problems by turning its vast unused real estate holdings into money-making assets. Typically, though, the transit agency has much larger properties that draw developers eager to build sizable mixed-used developments, such as residential, office, and retail complexes. This one on Newbury, however, is barely big enough to park a truck.
But MBTA general manager Rich Davey is unfazed about the limited potential of the site.
“Any dollar that I can get is one less dollar I have to charge at the fare box,’’ Davey said.
And Ross said there is precedent for developing such an unlikely site: The long-vacant public restroom on the Boston Common will soon house an Earl of Sandwich shop.
“We just find these unused spaces and turn them over,’’ he said.
One interested businessman had previously pursued the site, but backed off when he became worried the construction would prove too costly.
Solomon Boucai, who owns Truffles Fine Confections and lives above the slab in the 360 Newbury
condominiums, said he is again interested in seeing if he could make a small Truffles outlet work there.
“Our primary objective is to clean up the space,’’ Boucai said. “But my major concern is with the approval of the project.’’
Boucai’s further inquires about the project have led him to think it might not be worth the hassle of negotiating Boston’s approval process.
Aside from the MBTA, the project would at minimum need approval from the city and several civic groups.
“It’s almost as if you’re building a 50,000-square-foot building, but [the parcel] is only 275 square feet,’’ Boucai said.
After meetings with engineers and architects who have experience in developing similar properties, Boucai said he expected it to cost at least $200,000.
Boucai was the only one to attend the open meeting Transit Realty held to review the Newbury lease proposal.
Vince Petryk, owner of the neighboring J.P. Licks, said he was disappointed that the MBTA did not inform him that it was leasing the neighboring property.
Petryk has his managers police the concrete slab for litter that would otherwise blow onto J.P. Licks’ outdoor seating area.
Petryk noted the slab stands out on tony Newbury Street as a neglected property, but also as a “kind of an odd little antithesis of an urban oasis.’’
“I think it’s almost refreshing to have that space there,’’ he said.

Kaivan Mangouri Boston Globe  June 18, 2011

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