North End residents packed into the Nazzaro Community Center on Wednesday night for a meeting hosted by MassDOT to discuss the current Invitation to Bid on property at 128 North Street – the historic Tunnel Administration Building.
The significant turnout for this meeting was no coincidence; in fact, the majority of attendees came out to voice their support for the North End Music and Performing Arts Center’s plan to pursue this bid. [Learn more about NEMPAC’s case for support.]
For over two years, the arts and music nonprofit has been actively seeking larger space in the North End to accommodate the growing number students they serve. Their plan for this building would allow the organization to expand current offerings and increase arts opportunities for residents of all walks of life.
At the meeting, representatives from MassDOT gave a brief presentation of the 6,500 square foot property and an overview of the disposition. They explained that any interested party may submit a proposal, but due to statute/policy, they must award the property to the highest bidder. Officials have set the minimum bid at $2 million.
Attendees pushed back on MassDOT officials to consider giving NEMPAC a fair chance to win the bid by recalling the RFP and creating a new clause that gives influence to proposals that add community value.
State Representative Aaron Michlewitz stated, “I am extremely disappointed that community input was not part of the 128 North St. RFP.” He added, “Many of the promises made during the Big Dig never came to fruition, including a community center on Parcel 6, the Museum Project on Parcel 12, and the decking of those ramps and parcels. It is my hope that MassDOT will rectify the situation and I hope this building will have a significant positive community impact.”
Following the presentation, parents, children, educators, and others from the community gave thoughtful remarks on the value of having NEMPAC in the neighborhood and why the property needs to include a community space.
This was NEMPAC’s night to make their case to State officials, emphasizing that community needs should trump financial restrictions by relaxing the highest bidder rules and the $2 million minimum bid.
The abutting North Bennet Street School, also a non-profit, is expected to bid and is also working on a joint plan where NBSS could purchase the building and lease space to NEMPAC. However, such a plan could similarly require some modifications in the current financial restrictions. It is not clear if other developers will submit bids under the current RFP. To date, there has not been significant developer interest in such a small space at only 6,500 square feet.
In the coming weeks, MassDot will debrief the meeting and announce next steps. As it currently stands, all bids are due on December 18, 2017. The winning bidder will be determined in January 2018. Along the way, however, the RFP allows State officials to rejigger or terminate the current process.
NEMPAC is asking residents and supporters to email MassDot at: James.A.firstname.lastname@example.org and request the State agency to consider including a “community benefit” component to the RFP process rather than the current “highest bidder” strategy.
View the MassDOT presentation below: