Restoration vs Development in South Boston

After viewing the unique property at 928 East Broadway in South Boston recently, I started thinking about the line separating historical preservation and new development. The client who was interested in the property is an investor whose intent was to tear down the existing structures and build a new condo development on the land. It is not as though the developer could not appreciate the charm and significance of the Second Empire mansion built in 1867, but the land would be worth more to him with a new building than with the existing structure. He’s not alone as most of those who have shown interest in the property have had similar plans.

South Boston mansion at 928 E BroadwayAs a single-family home of over 6066 square feet the mansion with a mansard roof offers a significant amount of space for any neighborhood in Boston’s downtown neighborhoods. The current price of 2.3 million dollars looks good considering any other property in Boston’s central neighborhoods with over 6000 square feet is asking for over 4 million dollars. But once you factor in an adjustment for location (the competing properties are all in Back Bay or Beacon Hill) and the need for a total renovation the perceived savings disappear. Consider a middle of the road 250 dollar per square foot renovation and you are looking at a 1.5 million dollar restoration project.

The cost concerns are one reason most potential buyers have been looking at the property for development, but the other reason is the half acre of land located on East Broadway a block from the beach and Pleasure Bay. Only one property on the market in Boston’s central neighborhoods offers as much land and it is a parcel in New Market Square zoned for commercial use.

“Given the investment potential of a half acre corner lot a block from the Atlantic Ocean, why has it not sold?”

Good question.

Part of the answer has to do with two parcels existing on one deed, each with encumbrances on each other, but the biggest potential hurdle may be resistance to leveling an historic residence. The property is not listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places or any other list of protected property, but it is an historic property.

928 East Broadway was built in 1867 for James Collins, a wholesale liquor distributor and a real estate investor who developed much of the City Point area of South Boston during the late 1860’s to late 1880‘s. The remaining large scale frame mansard residences in Boston include the Manning/Johnson House at 69 Thomas Park and 928 East Broadway. The home features an unusually deep set-back, in part because Colins owned the entire block now bordered by East Broadway to the South, Farragut Road to the East, East 3rd Street to the North, and P Street to the East. Before Day Boulevard was constructed, the plot of land owned by Collins was oceanfront property.

Collins built brick homes at 936-942 East Broadway for his children

The Queen Anne brick row houses Collins built for his children

In 1884, Collins hired architect Patrick W Ford to build the Queen Anne brick row houses located adjacent to his residence at. Collins built these homes for his children and in 1890 he built the more utilitarian row houses at 823-833 East Third Street for his employees.

The recent history of 928 East Broadway is more humble as it served as a boarding house as recently as 2006.

I assume, as have most of the potential investors, proposals to tear down the existing building will be met with objections from abutters and the neighborhood association.

I can see the argument for historical preservation and love Boston for its sense of history, especially when it comes to its wide-ranging examples of different architectural styles. The problem is when those with no financial stake have the ability to restrict progress and affect the finances of a landowner. It is a fine line, one that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and in better ways than I have seen recently.

Personally, I would love to see the mansion at 928 East Broadway restored to the elegant single-family home it once was. But without the checkbook to see it through, does what I want matter?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I would like to know what you think about 928 East Broadway and regarding restoration vs development in general.

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4 Responses to Restoration vs Development in South Boston

  1. mary cooney says:

    WE had a community meeting wed Mar 20th that degraded into taunts and accusations. It didn’t help that the front man is Rocco Scippa with a less than reputable history of development.
    The intention of the LLC ahem…is to tear it down and build 11 units in an boxy building. The neighborhood is furious and written and online petitions of opposition are in place in preparation for a demolition stay hearing with the Landmarks commission in April. Renovate not demolish- profit vs greed-are the issues- waiting to see what happens…

    • SouthBostonOwner says:

      Mary, how do we build up the sense of community in our neighborhoods, when you are actively against a certain type of people, best characterized as “yuppies”? If the events of the marathon bombing have taught us anything, it is to accept all people and come together, rather than build walls between us. I think starting a movement to be more tolerable and neighborly will create a greater sense of community that you are seeking. Calling out people such as you wrote above and using “taunts and accusations” at meetings against developers seems counter productive. Is there any middle ground to strengthen our city and allow for development?

  2. ami an says:

    I think you are posing a false dichotomy. Development and restoration are not mutually exclusive. How many large single family homes have been turned into really amazing condominiums over the years? Not just in Boston but all over the country these are highly desirable residences. Let’s be creative with our thinking about older buildings: they are built of better materials than we have today and frequently have wonderful craftsmanship. These are things that are good for the city and homeowners.

  3. Thank you both for reading the blog and for taking the time to leave a comment.

    I’m interested to see how this plays out, Have there been any new developments, Mary?

    Ami, I agree with you that restoration and development are not mutually exclusive, but I don’t believe I am creating a false dichotomy in this case. I work with many investors/developers who buy brownstones and convert them into condos or apartments. However, what developers find attractive about 928 East Broadway is the amount of land (a half acre) and the potential the amount of land offers in terms of a new construction project. Could this home be converted into condos? Yes, but developers do not see this as the highest and best use of their money or this particular property.

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