By John Lynds
Several years ago when First Bristol first pitched a hotel at a vacant lot along Boardman Street and McClellan Highway that had been a community eyesore for decades, it came with several community benefits.
One of those benefits that won many over who were otherwise not too keen on having a large hotel across the street from their home was First Bristol’s pledge for 10,000 square feet of retail space and restaurant. During development meetings with the city appointed Impact Advisory Group (IAG) the idea of retail and a restaurant, even if it was to be a chain like Applebee’s, was an attractive approach to reactivating a corner of Eastie that didn’t have too much going on.
Now, according to a filing with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), First Bristol is abandoning its plans to place retail and a restaurant on site in favor of building an additional 84 hotel rooms to the 178-room hotel.
First Bristol and the BPDA will host a meeting on the proposed plans on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn’s conference room.
The news that First Bristol is abandoning plans to attract and place a restaurant and/or retail space at the hotel site is not sitting well with members of the IAG who worked to bring a quality development to the neighborhood.
“To come to the community asking for consideration of an extension to the hotel is amazing in its audacity,” said former IAG member Mary Berninger. “East Boston deserves more. In my opinion, First Bristol has been disingenuous in their approach to community relations with our neighborhood. We should not rewarded that disrespect with support for their plans for expansion.”
Berninger also fired off a letter to the BPDA expressing her frustration with First Bristol over the plans to add more hotel rooms and other changes the company has tried to make in the past regarding the site.
“Many large projects come before community groups to help balance the needs of the developers and the residents that will be impacted by those projects,” said Berninger. “The representatives of First Bristol Corporation made overtures of cooperation with the community that, disappointingly, did not come to fruition. First, Mr. Karam, the principal of First Bristol, committed during the IAG process not to erect large signage on the property. The community members requested that concession because the neighbors did not want another kind of blight at what is, arguably, the gateway to East Boston. Unfortunately, Mr. Karam attempted to garner support for a large billboard on the property, in direct conflict with what was discussed during the IAG meetings. It is my hope that the idea has been put to rest because of the neighborhood opposition that was evident in many community gatherings during the last two years.”
With respect to the promised restaurant for the property, Berninger said those businesses would have brought employment opportunities to the Eastie community and the IAG was fully supportive of that idea. “Unfortunately, that is another promise given to the IAG that was not kept,” she said. “I would like to state that I cannot support the building of an extension to the existing hotel’s infrastructure. There have been too many broken commitments by those involved in the history of the property under discussion, and this community deserves better corporate cooperation from those who conduct business in our midst.”
For their part, First Bristol said, according to their BPDA filing that, “Since the time of the Initial (BPDA) approvals, the proponent (First Bristol) has actively marketed both of the two retail/restaurant sites for development without any success. It has utilized the brokerage services of Eastern Retail who has endeavored over this three year period to engage tenants for each of these sites. Despite diligent efforts, including the lease negotiation, site work and foundation work for these retail sites, no potential retail/restaurant tenants have materialized. It appears that the cost of construction and the challenging retail market, with low projected sales volumes, rendered these sites not marketable for retail/restaurant purposes.”
First Bristol did have online ads and ads published in trade magazines advertising the retail/restaurant potential at the site.