Over the course of its two decade relationship with the community of East Boston, Roseland has received numerous concessions from elected officials, Massport and residents but has given little in return.
As Massport’s designated developer for the Pier I project since the early 2000s elected officials have passed legislation protecting Roseland from ‘frivolous’ Chapter 91 lawsuits; Massport allowed the development company to use the future site of Piers Park Phase II as construction staging for the first three buildings; and residents put up with numerous changes to the project’s style, size and scope over the years.
Using the future site of Piers Park Phase II alone saved Roseland millions of dollars in construction costs but residents suffered a yearslong delay in the development of that park until the project’s first three buildings were erected. Only now is the park close to becoming a reality.
However, all these concessions were met with little public amenities aside from what some have called the most bland portion of Eastie’s harborwalk.
Now with Roseland’s nearly 500 rental units being leased in buildings 5, 6, and 7 for between $3,000 to upwards of $10,000 a month the company is pulling in tens of millions of dollars a year from Eastie’s Pier I project.
Last week, Massport Board member Warren Fields announced Roseland is walking away from its commitment to erect residential units out on the actual pier. The board voted unanimously to allow Roseland out of its construction commitment and development lease of the pier.
“So after more than 20 years of partnership, and hard work, endeavoring to build a project on Pier One, Roseland informed us late last year of their intention to terminate their development rights on the site effective February 1,” said Fields. “To initiate development on the East Boston waterfront (Roseland) proceeded initially with buildings 5,6, and 7 and built 477 units on the site. The project I’ll say was a challenge but they persevered through an underdeveloped market and then through the Great Recession. They’ve been highly motivated to build on the pier. Given their considerable investment in the property, they demolished a large shed structure on the pier initially, which cleared the way to develop the pier.”
Warren said what was discovered almost from the beginning of the partnership was the 2,200 piles that support the pier really presented a major structural challenge and cost to the asset. “We came to you (the board) in 2019 and I sought a 24 month extension to proceed with a mixed housing project on the pier,” said Warren. “That was based on a pretty innovative engineering approach that Roseland thought could work.”
However, in light of the rapid escalation and construction costs that occurred over the last three years and more demanding financing requirements under COVID Warren said the longstanding commitment of Roseland to actually develop the pier did not make sense financially.
“The piles have significantly deteriorated over a 60 plus year timeframe,” said Warren. “The (pier) deck is suitable for low weight non-development purposes but really can’t support development without a minimum investment that has been targeted a few years ago at approximately $50 million. It’s a huge cost entry for a residential development on this property at this time given market conditions.”
Warren said Massport will certainly explore alternative uses for the site as well as positive and productive interim uses on the parcel.
“As an East Boston resident, I can say that it’s a little bit of a punch in the gut to see this is not going forward as planned because people were certainly anticipating it for a long time,” said Massport Board Member John Nucci. “I would hope that we can find some good and all of this as we move forward. Beyond the lease, we’re going to be talking about other uses for this site. We could be looking at something that might provide a less dense project, and one that might provide affordable homeownership on the waterfront, because I think that’s a piece that’s been missing from the development so far.”