Draft RFP for Redevelopment of West End Library Discussed

The draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of the West End Branch Library was the topic at hand during a virtual meeting sponsored by the city on Jan. 10.

The city is proposing the redevelopment of the site of  library, which opened in the 1960s, into a mixed-use development expected to include “a new ground-floor space for the library and multiple floors of primarily income-restricted, affordable housing above,” according to the draft objectives for the project.

The city released an approximately 40-page working draft of the RFP for the proposed project just before Christmas, said Joe Backer, senior development officer for the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Guidelines for the new library branch outlined in the document include that the “core and shell building” must devote between 17,500 and 19,000 usable square feet on either the ground floor or the first two floors of the development to the new library. (The library would most likely occupy two floors, said Backer.) The development team won’t design the interior of the space, since “the Boston Public Library will lead a separate process to design and fit out this space as a new library branch,” said Backer.  The guidelines also mandate that the new space be provided at cost to the BPL, as the land would remain under city ownership while the housing operator would enter into a long-term agreement with the city.

The housing component, which has been envisioned as either four floors with 50 units or nine floors with 80 to 90 units above the library, intends to deliver mostly, if not all, affordable, income-restricted units on the site. But “there has been an openness to considering proposals with a relatively small portion of units that are unrestricted (market-rate) and/or restricted at workforce housing levels (e.g. 120 percent of Area Median Income),” according to Backer.

Deeply affordable housing-units could be delivered via a unique partnership with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), since Boston is currently around 2,500 units below its “Faircloth Limit,” the maximum number of federal public housing units in the city eligible for a federal subsidy.

Regarding public realm and neighborhood context, development guidelines and objectives state that the project should match the “context” of Cambridge Street, while “striking a balance” between taller buildings and the 45-foot Otis House next door.

No on-site parking would be required of the project, given the tight space constraints, as well as nearby public transit options.

The city also acknowledges that most street trees are unlikely to survive construction, so all proposals should include a “tree plan,” said Backer.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing will also make dedicated subsidy funds available via the RFP, including that all development projects meeting the agency’s basic thresholds will be eligible for up to $1.5 million in subsidy while “proposals that exceed the minimum requirements for deeply affordable units may be eligible for additional funding,” according to Backer.

The city hopes that have a tentative developer designation by this summer, said Backer. This would come on the heels of the Mayor’s Office of Housing conducting an “Internal Comparative Evaluation” of all proposals , as well as hosting a public “bidders’ conference” where all developers who meet the minimum requirements can make their presentations in order to solicit feedback, he said.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing will evaluate each proposal based on several criteria, including the development plan; the development concept; developer experience and capacity; the developer’s financial capacity; the developer’s cost feasibility; equity and inclusion; and housing affordability.

A separate architect will be selected by the city for the library component of the project who will work closely with the architect selected by the development team for the residential component of the project. Three or four public meetings would likely be scheduled once the city’s architect has been selected to allow them to present their proposal and solicit public feedback, according to city officials.

 Sebastian Belfanti of the West End Civic Association was one of many in attendance who urged the city to make provisions for a temporary branch library during the two- to three-year construction period when the West End Branch Library will be closed.

Colin Zick, a Beacon Hill Civic Association board member, echoed this sentiment, calling the BPL’s decision not to make temporary provisions for the West End Branch Library “a misguided and short-sighted policy.”

Said Zick, “This is a vital, vital service for many, and many of the users are elderly and unable to travel.”

Likewise, City Councilor Kenzie Bok said three years is way too long a time period for the neighborhood to be without a branch library and added that her office would advocate for more library services in the neighborhood.

Priscilla Foley, the BPL’s director of neighborhood service, responded, “The idea of taking a storefront and creating a mini-library is not something we can accommodate. It might seem as simple as renting a storefront, but a lot more goes into it than that.”

Foley added that book pickup and delivery also wouldn’t be an option during the construction period.

John Achatz of Beacon Hill urged the city to include “adequate bike storage space” in the RFP.

Backer replied that the city would “look at where bike storage can be added” and also said that bike accommodations are a “very integral part” of the city’s Article 80 review for large-scale development projects, which this project would undergo.

 Moreover, Backer said while the city hopes to release the RFP next month, that an updated draft document could likely be made available to the public beforehand.

“We want to release the RFP by February so we can get through the review and selection process by the summer,” he said.

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