By John Lynds
It’s a unique development that will transform the decaying Welfare Building on Maverick Street into a vibrant commercial development.
John and Melissa Tyler got approval in May 2009 from the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) to develop the Welfare Building at 154 Maverick St. after a lengthy community process.
Now the duo is getting revved up to begin the $1.2 million renovations on the building and are prepared to close on the property in the near future.
“It’s an exciting time and we are eager to move forward with this project,” said Melissa.
The Tyler’s plan involves a comprehensive development strategy for the building that includes commercial, retail and residential components. Their plan called for converting the first floor of the building with up to eight boutique shops in an open market style similar to Faneuil Hall. The second floor would be eight offices while the third floor would be converted into two residential apartments — one of which the Tylers plan to live in.
“Our plan would re-open the Welfare Building to the public while introducing entrepreneurs to a unique way of selling and promoting themselves,” said Melissa. “This building would be the perfect place to incubate new, small businesses in East Boston.”
The Tylers would also historically renovate the building and would only charge about $500 per month per office and shop.
“We want to make the Welfare Building into the shining star of East Boston,” said Melissa.
Already, the Tylers have several potential tenants, which include a speech therapist, two attorneys, a graphic designer, an artisan cheese maker so there is potential for Eastie’s first wine and cheese shop, a baker who makes homemade muffins and scones and also a woman that makes dog treats, toys and holistic healing items for animals.
“The great thing is that all these tenants are small business owners living in East Boston,” said Melissa.
The Tylers have also applied for a Mass Challenge grant. Mass Challenge hands out two $100,000 and ten $50,000 grants to help foster small business in neighborhoods.
“They do a wonderful program and the money will help the small businesses in the building get up and running with a huge support network from Mass Challenge.”
Eastie residents can help the Tylers secure the grant for the building by logging onto Mass Challenge at www.masschallenge.org, creating a user name and password and voting for the 154 Maverick St. project.
The husband and wife team’s proposal garnered a lot of support from residents at community meetings, many of which said they’d like to see more unique businesses come to Eastie. This proposal, said some residents, could attract more diverse retail in the Maverick Square area now being dominated by many businesses that are very similar.
“John and I are working hard to get everything moving,” said Melissa Tyler. “We had a few hurdles. The master plans are gone so we have had to re-construct them very time consuming along with lots of detective work. The original deed went missing and was found 3 months later in the archives of Massachusetts. It was written in beautiful long hand and needed to be recreated as well.”
Tyler said she and her husband are now starting to get all of the plans to zoning and hope to be starting construction soon.
“John and I are very excited and ready to get working,” she said. “We have an assurance from the East Boston Savings bank to finance the project and the Small Business Association is going to be holding training and informational seminars for the entrepreneurs that will be in the building.”
Back in December 2007, both the Tyler’s and the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) submitted plans for the building. NOAH’s plan for the building calls for converting the structure into 10-14 units of rental housing for seniors on low to moderate income. Rents would cost $700 per month for one-bedroom apartments. The $3.2 million project would historically renovate the facade of the building, potentially add a fourth floor to the building, and construct a community room for 25-30 seniors to use all day.
NOAH’s plan gained the support of community leaders like East Boston Neighborhood Health Center President Jack Cradock. Cradock said the health center would like to see this project get done because it is committed to expanding senior program to the Welfare Building if NOAH is chosen as the developer by DND.
However, some at the series of community meetings complained that with 16 percent of East Boston’s housing stock already affordable, about five percent higher than the city average, the neighborhood does not need more affordable housing but a mixed use development like the one the Tylers proposed.