This story ran on page D15 of the Boston Globe on 7/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Mayor artfully touts studios at Fort Point
By Maureen Dezell, Globe Staff, 7/18/2003

Standing by a South Boston construction site, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday quoted Pablo Picasso, as the Fort Point Cultural Collaborative announced plans for Midway Studios, a 200,000-square-foot development that will house 89 new artists' live/work studios, a gallery, a black box theater, and other cultural facilities in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood.

''Everything you can imagine is real,'' the mayor said to a crowd of approximately 250 who gathered outside the three contiguous former warehouses near A Street that will be Midway Studios. The group included spike-haired artists, dark-suited developers, and city employees dressed in their summer casual best.

''This will be a little bit of heaven for the arts and for artists in Fort Point -- a neighborhood that they helped to create several years ago,'' Menino added.

The upbeat announcement came only days after news that the Boston Wharf Co., the Fort Point neighborhood's major property owner, intends to sell 44 of its buildings there to New York-based Tishman Speyer Properties. Some 250 artists rent space from Boston Wharf. News of the sale has added some trepidation to a neighborhood that saw property values escalate dramatically during the 1990s and artists all too frequently forced out. An estimated 600 artists lived and worked in Fort Point in the early 1990s. The number has dropped to approximately 400 today.

''This ensures that artists will always be part of this neighborhood,'' said Menino. ''Because we all know this area near the waterfront is on the verge of a boom. With Midway Studios, artists are sure to be a part of it all.''

Assembled by the Fort Point Development Collaborative, a joint venture of the Fort Point Cultural Coalition and Keen Development Corporation, Midway Studios is part and parcel of Channel Center, a four-block residential, office, and retail complex that is being developed in three phases by Beacon Capital Partners.

Beacon purchased 19 brick buildings and abutting property near A Street from Boston Wharf in 2000, the twilight of a red-hot real estate era in which developers, dot-com companies, and condo buyers snapped up large swaths of property in the neighborhood.

At the time, an estimated 500 artists who lived and worked in the neighborhood were in danger of losing their studios and homes, according to the Fort Point Cultural Coalition, a group of artists and arts group representatives working to prevent displacement and develop affordable artists' housing.

Coalition members feared then that Beacon would ignore or marginalize their interests in the neighborhood, according to Anita Lauricella, a coalition member and cofounder of the Fort Point Development Collaborative.

As it happened, she said, ''Beacon turned out to be a terrific partner.'' Boston Redevelopment Authority director Mark Maloney brought representatives of Beacon and the coalition to the table at the mayor's behest, seeking ways to maintain artists' presence as the neighborhood developed, said Lauricella.

The family-owned, Boston-based company, developers of Rowes Wharf and One Post Office Square, sold three buildings to the coalition for $1 apiece with the understanding that the group would develop the property as a mixed-use cultural facility.

''This neighborhood was revived by artists,'' Beacon chairman and CEO Alan Leventhal said at the Midway Studios kickoff yesterday. ''And for once those artists will be staying and working here. This is simply the start of an emerging, exciting community.''

Leventhal and Lauricella both noted that plans for Midway Studios and Channel Center have taken shape in a challenging economic environment.

''This wouldn't have happened in a boom economy,'' Lauricella said. When the real estate market collapsed, for example, her organization was able to secure low-interest loans to develop, she said.

The price tag for developing Midway Studios is approximately $23 million. Fleet Community Investment Group's real estate division has underwritten $9.35 million of the $18 million the organization intends to borrow through tax-exempt bonds. Federal tax credits will cover another $4 million.

Lauricella said that 39 of the 89 artists' studios will be ''affordable,'' though the price on the units has yet to be set.

Construction is expected to start in September,

Meanwhile, said Lauricella and Jane Deutsch of the Fort Point Artists Coalition, no one knows what's going to happen once Tishman Speyer takes title to its Boston properties.

Maureen Dezell can be reached at

This story ran on page D15 of the Boston Globe on 7/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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