Posted Nov. 19, 2014 @ 5:31 pm
ALLSTON: When Kevin Allen, the program manager for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Historic Curatorship Program, first became involved with Brighton’s historic Speedway Headquarters building, he was single. By the time of Saturday's community meeting with residents, stakeholders and representatives of the firm whose renovation proposal DCR accepted, he was married and recently had a daughter.The building sits on the corner of Western Avenue and Soldiers Field Road. Painted dark brown and draped with “Vacant” and “No Trespassing” signs, Allen said it's been empty since the Fish and Wildlife Department moved out 10 years ago.“It's really kind of the origin building for the agency (the DCR) and what became the first regional, interconnected metropolitan park system,” Allen said. “This was one of the first buildings built in that initial wave of construction in 1899, so it's really important to the agency.”The property includes a house, which was the residence of the superintendent, Allen said. Attached to it were several stables and sheds housing the horses and equipment used to maintain the park and speedway, forming a courtyard.There was also a multistory stable that was converted into a police station after the State Parks police were founded and two garages for automobiles built much later. Except for those garages, the property is on the National Register of Historic Places and was recently designated a Boston Landmark.“There's been some use off and on over the last 20 years since the state police left,” Allen said. “Overall, it's clear that we're at a turning point with it, as far as coming up with a solution for its preservation.”Because of changes to the way the parks system is run, DCR no longer has a use for the building and with the costs of maintaining it so high, it was decided to turn it over to the Historic Curatorship Program. Allen said that the program works with private groups to find new uses for historic properties owned by the state that pay for their own upkeep.“We've estimated that the rehab, just to bring the shell of the building to a usable condition, is $5 million plus,” Allen said. “That doesn't include the costs to refit it for a particular use. When we determined that we wanted to do an outside partnership we put out a competitive request for proposal. That was about a year and a half ago that we released that. The program that this building is under allows us to put out a longterm lease, where the cost of the lease is basically invested in the management, the preservation and the maintenance of the property. We were really open. We had a couple public meetings, trying to get input from the neighborhood and from other preservation programs, just to help guide figuring out what it was going to take to get this to work out. It was very robust – we had six proposals. Six very good proposals and four finalists with a wide range of reuses.”
DCR ultimately selected Boston-based Architectural Heritage Foundation to redevelop the property. However, due to the high costs of renovation, it was agreed that there would have to be a for-profit component to subsidize the preservation work. Brighton Rep. Mike Moran had to get the law governing the Historic Curatorship Program amended to allow it, which took some time. AHF has partnered with Florida-based developer George Apostolicus to build condos on the side, tearing down the garages that aren't part of the historic portions.“Architectural Heritage Foundation is a preservation developer,” said company president Sean McDonnell. “The preservation piece is just to raise some money to do the preservation, but more importantly it's also about how to get people in here doing fun things and getting them to come back and do them again.”“Its true condition is reflected in its exterior condition,” Allen said. “Structurally, it was built incredibly well. Over the last 20 years we've kept the roof in decent shape and that really buys you a lot of time. There's a functional heating system for part of the building, but for the most part there's no functioning systems.”Many of the building's windows are boarded up, the paint is chipping and the courtyard was littered with debris. Other structural elements were sagging or appeared water damaged, although the roof was in good condition.“When we started looking down the road of redevelopment, the central focus was, how we can preserve this building,” Allen said. “That was first and foremost. So we wanted to see if anyone was out there who had an idea that's feasible, that has a business plan that can make financial sense that preserves this building basically intact.”About 25 people attended the meeting. AHF has nothing set in stone, but they do have ideas about what to do with the space. McDonnell said that one of their sources of inspiration was Granville Island in Vancouver. An historic industrial area, he said it's been redeveloped into a mix of uses with a public market, performance space and community space.One aspect that residents, McDonnell, Apostolicus and Allen all agreed on was that what would really make the project is making use of the Charles River. But there are no crossings of Soldiers Field Road there.“(AHF) has done that and been really successful with a lot of similar projects, where they've incorporated the new (use) with historic preservation,” Allen said.The new building will have to be architecturally compatible with the old, Allen added. He compared the requirement to the Liberty Hotel's incorporation of the Charles Street Jail.McDonnell said that the new construction would take longer than the renovation and that, if all went well with designing and permitting, construction could start with nine to 12 months.
Allen said he hoped his daughter will be walking by the time of the ribbon cutting.