By Beth Treffeisen
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) approved an amendment to Emerson College’s Institution Master Plan (IMP) to temporarily lease the hostel located at 12 Hemenway Street for two years at the board of directors meeting on Thursday, January 12.
The lease will run from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2019 to house approximately 115 students due to the temporary closing of Emerson College’s Little Building dormitory located at 80 Boylston Street, which is being renovated to include an additional 294 students.
When completed, Emerson College will be able to house all of their freshman, sophomore and junior undergraduate students.
“It is a temporary two-year lease and I mean temporary,” said Margaret Ings from the office of government and community relations at Emerson College. “We want to be a good neighbor in the neighborhood.”
There will be no construction at the site and once the two-year lease is up, the dorm will be converted back to its use now, a budget friendly lodging site.
At the end of the temporary lease, Emerson College has committed the first offer of 12 Hemenway Street, if the owner wants to sell, to the Fenway Community Development Corporation (Fenway CDC).
The Fenway CDC works to improve the lives of low to moderate-income residents by providing affordable housing, social support services, adult education and more.
In the past they have come out against this project saying that it is another example of an institution expanding its footprint without regard for community impact. The Fenway CDC also stated that it believes that after two years as a temporary dorm, the property will become de facto dorm housing unsupervised students.
“I think it’s the right thing to do if the owner decides to sell,” said Ings. “I think it’s a great offer.”
The college will continue to work with the Boston Police Department to add coverage to the area, increase lighting in the alley behind 12 Hemenway Street and will provide additional community space at the temporary dorms.
Emerson College is located in Boston’s Midtown Cultural District, also known as the Theatre District. It currently enrolls 3,514 full-time undergraduate students and 537 full-time graduate students.
They currently have a total of 1,940 dormitory beds. A new residence hall, located at Boylston Place, will accommodate an additional 380 students and is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed by summer 2017.
“We really do feel like there is a responsibility from our community and from the City to actually do something to care of those kids who actually do their studies on time and on schedule,” said Tim Horn the president of the Fenway Civic Association (FCA).
He continued, “It is our position for this college to move the majority of their students to on-site dormitories will have meaningful, positive effects on the availability of market-rate housing for our residents and the FCA fully supports that City policy.”
In addition Horn said the FCA sees this project leading to an overall decrease in congestion and overall increase in safety and activity in the area.
The 12 Hemenway Street building, which is located in the heart of the Fenway, is a 1.3 mile walk to Emerson College’s main campus, making it a half-hour walk or about a 10 minute T ride away.
The college will retrofit the 42,868 square foot hostel to include 56 rooms, a commercial kitchen, and a café on the first floor. There will be three parking spaces that will be used by the Resident Director, Facilities, and the Emerson College Police Department. Students who will be staying there will be asked to not have a car.
Emerson College will manage this property in the same manner the College oversees all of its residence halls on the main campus. There will be a Resident Director along with five Resident Assistants. Emerson will also utilize Securitas to prove 24-hour front desk coverage.
“It is not in question here whether or not Emerson College is a good institution or whether their students serve the city of Boston or whether they are good to their neighbors downtown,” said Robert Case a Fenway resident saying that Boston has world-class schools that often make bad decisions sometimes – including this one.
He continued, “It should be recalled, it should be looked at and it should be turned down so that they can deal with their issues in a way that makes sense to the city.”
Ted Landsmark, who is on the board of directors at the BPDA, believes this proposal accomplishes exactly what the Fenway community has been asking for including the placement of people in their community who can be held accountable and owners and tenants in the community who can be held accountable in terms of making capital improvements to this particular parcel.
“I’m frankly a little doubt-founded that a proposal which moves the community it seems to me precisely the direction that it has wanted the institutions to take is being abutted,” said Landsmark.
He said that along with his fellow directors, they have all read the petitions and have looked very closely into this situation but that frankly he finds it counter-intuitive that the community is even opposed to this.
“It is in fact working in concert with what is being articulated by community groups and I sometimes don’t understand why the community groups aren’t always fighting for what is in their best interest,” said Landsmark.
Two prior public meetings were held on August 1 and October 17 in 2016. Both meetings brought up controversial comments from the public stating worries about increasing the student population even more in the area and the fear of setting a precedent with the college’s leasing out the hostel for future residences for their students.
Ing said, “This has been a very long process and I met terrific people in the neighborhood and I hope to continue this as we move forward.”