BU News Service
Widett Circle, a central character in the now defunct Boston 2024 Olympics’ bid, is being recast as a potential link between the South End, South Boston and Dorchester. But residents in those neighborhoods are concerned that development at Widett will achieve the complete opposite.
Richie Hall, a former South End little city hall manager, has lived in the South End for the past 46 years and is skeptical about the development talks.
“The South End and South Boston are two different communities, and historically don’t get along,” Hall said. “So it’d be hard to imagine Widett connecting the two.”
Widett Circle, nestled between a bend in Interstate 93 and MBTA rail yards, divides the South End and South Boston. The 83 acres of land is home to 22 meat and seafood wholesalers as well as a cold storage facility and a city tow lot.
But the area has garnered much attention over the past year.
Last January, the United States Olympic Committee announced Boston as a potential home for the 2024 Summer Games. Boston 2024 officials chose Widett Circle as the location for the Games’ centerpiece, a temporary 60,000-seat stadium to host the opening and closing ceremonies. The plan was to dismantle the arena after the Olympics and transform Widett into its own neighborhood featuring more than 4,000 housing units and acres of green space. But in July, Boston 2024 withdrew its bid after Mayor Marty Walsh refused to sign a host-city agreement that would put Boston taxpayers on the hook for Olympic cost overruns.
In a Boston Globe op-ed written a week after the withdrawal of the bid, the mayor described Widett as “an area that is poised for substantial growth in the coming years.”
Three months later, residents living in areas near Widett Circle are concerned that developers will not take their needs into account.
Lucia Littlefield, a retired Boston University professor, is a fixture in the Polish Triangle, as her family has been based there since 1957. The once mostly Polish community, which is now undergoing gentrification, sits on the border of South Boston and Dorchester.
Littlefield supports city development but on one condition.
“You can not bridge communities by excluding people, it has to be inclusive,” Littlefield said. “You have to include the businesses there and the residents because frequently neither the businesses or the residents that are affected are included.”
Littlefield said she uses Widett Circle as a shortcut to get to work and believes traffic is going to be a major issue for developers.
“They’re going to have to solve all of the transportation issues in that area, especially the rail lines,” Littlefield said. “More people coming in calls for more transportation options.”
South End native Kathleen Edwards expects a domino effect to occur between Widett and the South End.
“It looks like Widett could become its own neighborhood,” Edwards said. “And I’m curious to see how it will affect other neighborhoods like the South End and how other neighborhoods will affect it.”
Even though the current Widett businesses may have to relocate, they said Mayor Walsh is aware of their concerns.
Michael Vaughan, a spokesman for the New Boston Food Market at Widett, said the mayor has communicated with the Widett businesses on a regular basis to keep them in the loop of development conversation.
“We are committed to working with the mayor to determine the next best steps,” Vaughan said. “Some options we’re looking at are staying and reinvesting into this industrial area or finding a new home so Widett could be redeveloped.”
Vaughan believes moving wouldn’t be bad as long as they get to stay in Boston.
“We love Boston and we need to be here because of certain needs,” Vaughan said. “There is access to the airport, access to downtown and access to the workforce.”
Last week, Suffolk University and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board hosted a panel addressing the future of Widett. The panelists, ranging from developers to consultants, supported either residential or industrial growth.
Sue Sullivan, the executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, believed the 83 acres of land in what is considered the center of Boston should be valued more.
“There is a 90 percent chance that anything fresh that you eat comes from the Newmarket area, which includes Widett,” Sullivan said. “The area is the keystone of the local economy.”
Michael Ross, who served on the Boston City Council from 2000 to 2014, supports moving the businesses to another part of the city.
“All of these industrial areas would probably make a great cause for why they should continue to exist,” Ross said. “I don’t think keeping them there is forward thinking. The way forward is to revision all those spaces.”
The mayor cited collaboration amongst “developers, architects, neighbors, and all residents across Boston” as the driving force behind the future of Widett Circle. But like Hall, many who live in bordering neighborhoods are still unaware of Widett’s story.
“I’ve lived in the South End for a long time and I don’t really know much about Widett,” Hall said. “It’s just not something that is under the radar of the average South End resident.”
Littlefield said growing up in Dorchester has allowed her to become invested in it. She urges developers to take the time to explore Widett and the stretches around it.
“The city has ignored that property for so long,” Littlefield said. “Now that the area is popular, I just want the developers to understand the effect development has on daily living.”
Sara Myerson, who directed the Mayor’s Office of Olympic Planning, is now in charge of Imagine Boston 2030, a multi-year initiative allowing the public to foster the future growth of the city. Bostonians can work with consultants and city agencies to develop and submit citywide plans to the mayor, which seems like a step in the right direction for the residents worried about community inclusion.
The mayor’s office does not have any updates on the status of Widett Circle and there is no word as to whether the area is officially included in the initiative.