Developers often buy properties and let them sit empty and boarded up until they get permitting and financing to raze the site to build anew.
But City Realty is going against the grain. Last fall, City Realty approached Egleston Square Main Streets (ESMS) to ask for ideas about how their recently acquired property at 3195 Washington St., the closed Jackson Glass building, could be put to use while development plans are determined. On Friday night, about 100 people gathered in the empty Jackson Glass building to discuss plans to use the building temporarily for arts.
City Realty’s idea immediately caught the imagination of Egleston Main Streets Director Luis Cotto.
City Realty was already known in Egleston Square, when in April 2014 it purchased, through a street auction, two Egleston Square business blocks, 3152- 3160 Washington St. at Chilcott Place and 3106-3108 Washington St., which also included two upstair floor rentals for $1.3 million.
City Realty then engaged in lease negotiations with business tenants while simultaneously initiating eviction notices, according to the Jamaica Plain Gazette of Sept 26. Anibels Color Studio told the Jamaica Plain News on Sept 18, 2014 that it was being evicted and that City Realty ” tried to jack up the rents”. In total, seven business were affected. Street protests were organized by City Life and the Jamaica Neighborhood Development Corporation. District 7 Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson stood with the protesters and decried what he saw as a citywide conflict in low-income neighborhoods.
It was a very stressful time, but Anibels Color Studio as well as Tony’s Travel, which also feared eviction, remained and are open for business . City Realty told the Jamaica Plain News in response to this story that ” there were no proposed rent increases. Rather there was disagreement over establishing a rent after a significant period of non payment to the previous owner” One business which did close, Nellys Flowers and Fragrances in the 3106 – 3108 block, left, according to City Realty “with no notice and in violation of their lease.”
City Realty purchased the Jackson Glass building at the same time the debate was ongoing in regards to 3200 Washington St., which is directly across the street. Jackson Square Glass was previously a fixture at that corner for almost 50 years and is now in Mattapan after a move there in June 2015.
The owners of City Realty, Fred Starikov and Steve Whalen, decided to get more involved with the Egleston Square community after the protests. At 3195 Washington St. they have decided to open up their building, pay for heat, electricity, water and insurance and allow the community to use it for the next six months or so. They plan on filing a mixed-use development plan for the 14,000 sf. property in 60 days, according to Whalen.
Cotto had the idea of using the space as “a great collaboration between artists and musicians to meet each other” as he said to about 100 people at the Friday night open house in the empty building, which was hosted by Egleston Square Main Streets and the Urbano Project.
Cotto said ESMS and Urbano Project thought of an arts networking evening called “What Would You Do Here?” inspired by Pop Allston, an invention of Allston Village Main Streets where it reused a building for artists, performers and performances and even a skating rink.
“We wanted it to be hyperlocal,” said Cotto. “There were more than 25 artists from Egleston alone” among the 100 who flocked to the building Friday night. They used the three hours to network and spread ideas about how the space could be used.
People tacked up notes on a blank white wall with their ideas and thoughts while a presentation of images of Egleston Square businesses, people, streets and street life were shown on another wall.
“This is fun project,” said Whalen. “It’s a good thing to do. It needs to be done. We don’t want to let a building just sit here empty and dark… This is proof of the vibrancy of the neighborhood.”
Cotto spoke about the local arts community, “There was good number of Egleston specific artists who came out. Our concern from the start with the owners was that we specified local artists. I was also encouraged by the number of people of color who dropped by.”
And there were a lot of amazing ideas pinned to the wall, from Irish step dancing to spray painting, light installations, poetry readings and even a farmer’s market.
The next step is to hire a space manager to schedule the visual and performance arts programs that are bubbling out of an emerging artists community in Egleston Square.
[NOTE: Factual mistakes have been corrected in the fourth paragraph of this piece. Jamaica Plain News regrets the errors.]