COMMENTARY
1:00 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Dudley Square: Poised For Renewal

The Ferdinand Furniture building in Dudley Square. The building is being renovated and will soon house Boston Public Schools headquarters.
The Ferdinand Furniture building in Dudley Square. The building is being renovated and will soon house Boston Public Schools headquarters.
Credit Will Roseliep / WGBH News

For many years, I didn’t know the name of the triangle shaped building, which sits on a corner in Dudley Square. But no matter how many times I passed it, my eyes were always drawn to the cobalt blue windows, pristine against the crumbling brick exterior.

The blue windows are gone now, temporarily removed as the Ferdinand— as its known— is undergoing a 120 million dollar renovation. Architects describe the building as a baroque and renaissance revival. And, what was once the site of a bustling 19th century furniture store, will soon be the 21st century headquarters for Boston’s Public School administration.

Dudley Square’s economic and aesthetic revitalization is well underway. It’s already home to a refurbished library, a Walgreens chain store, and the mirrored glass district headquarters of the Boston Police Department. The Ferdinand will be another boost in the growing renewal effort.

The six-story building will house 500 employees with space for six ground floor businesses.  Twenty-two vendors bid for the open spaces, including an optometrist, an artisan coffee shop, a boutique designer clothing store, and several chain restaurants like Tasty Burger and Starbucks. In a full fledged campaign to land a spot,the non-profits Discover Roxbury and Haley House have collected nearly 500 signatures of support.

The fierce competition is characterized as a battle between the we- were-here-all-along neighborhood businesses vs. the big-foot-outsider chains, retailers that now see economic opportunity in a community that, frankly, couldn’t  attract them before now.

I don’t see this as a David and Goliath situation, but I do feel strongly that the neighborhood vendors should get first priority in this building. I would hope that a Starbucks with its vast resources would still locate in Dudley, just nearby. This kind of proximity works fine in other parts of the city where Starbucks is on one corner, and a specialty store like the proposed Etno Ethiopian coffee café is on another.

The BRA is now reviewing six recommendations culled by the search committee, a group that includes several local residents. No word yet about exactly which vendors made the cut. So I’m left hoping that, in the end, the agency recognizes that Dudley’s future is best shaped by the ongoing contributions of vendors with deep local connections.

The Ferdinand, now officially the Dudley Municipal Center, will reopen the first of the year. Soon those beautiful blue windows will be back in place. And I’ll no longer be admiring them from afar, but inside, enjoying a blue-sky look at a community on the rise.