After lying fallow for decades, the last major vacant parcel left over from the disastrous Inner Belt highway project in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood could finally be developed. 

As Steve Adams reports in this week’s issue, Boston Planning & Development Agency officials are preparing to issue a new request for development proposals using the massive, city-owned site next to the MBTA’s Ruggles station. 

And after decades of failed proposals, this latest round appears to offer the best chance yet to redeem the horrific bulldozing of the Madison Park neighborhood during the era of Urban Renewal. 

Three things are different this time.  

First, the city has finally seen the wisdom of cleaning up soil contamination on the site itself, rather than asking developers and lenders to shoulder a risk they have clearly been unwilling to take on.  

Second, the BPDA is keen to use the 7.6-acre development to boost women- and minority-owned development, architectural and construction firms that have historically faced significant challenges breaking into the top ranks of Massachusetts’ commercial real estate world. By helping these firms form relationships with established players, and giving them an opportunity to establish solid track records, the city will be doing its part to address longstanding disparities in the industry. 

Third, the city hopes to select a master developer who will break the site up into smaller parcels and sell them to specialist developers, avoiding the creation of a single, unwieldy project that could be too hard to finance in one go. 

There is no question that the four-block parcel needs to be turned into a “quality, high-density, mixed-use neighborhood” as Colliers International Executive Vice President Jeanne Pinado put it. And with lab and multifamily assets investors’ chief focus for the foreseeable future, it’s only natural for those two uses to dominate the city’s vision for the site.  

But it’s difficult to tell how long the city’s pell-mell life science boom will last. Will it survive in comparable strength past 2023, when a wave of millions of square feet of speculative construction will come online region-wide? Will investors still be as eager to plunge money into startups in what will hopefully be a more stable economy? And can a sufficiently strong life science job-training component be created in the project to help lift up Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan residents? Clearly, developers who seek to tackle the project face a range of difficult questions as they craft their proposals.  

Letters to the editor of 350 words or less may be submitted via email at with the subject line “Letter to the Editor,” or mailed to the offices of The Warren Group. Submission is not a guarantee of publication.  

Will the Third Time Be the Charm for P3?

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min