Join Date: May 2006
A development with a bite
The Boston Globe
Animal league floats an idea and hopes a developer bites
South End nonprofit seeks new facility with condos on upper floors
The rescue league's development plan would expand its outdated facility to include office and veterinary space and canine exercise space.
Must love dogs.
That's the catch on what may be the next big housing project to hit the trendy South End, as the Animal Rescue League of Boston looks for developers willing to combine residential units with new veterinary facilities on the prime real estate the organization owns at Tremont and Chandler streets.
``We find more and more interesting ways to do things in this city, don't we?" said Robert Epstein, the chief executive of Abbey Group, a development company now planning a luxury residential tower on Province Street. ``I don't think I've ever heard of residences over a dog hospital."
Founded 107 years ago to save mistreated horses, the Animal Rescue League has been at the same location for more than 50 years near the Massachusetts Turnpike. It's on the edge of the Back Bay, close to downtown, and part of the property fronts on Appleton Street.
The league and creatures in its custody inhabit a crowded and outdated facility, built in the 1950s. The organization hopes to capitalize on the strong -- though tempering -- residential real estate market, and let a developer and some new condo owners help finance a modern facility that it would own, below the private residences.
Jay Bowen, a former academic administrator who became the seventh president of the league late last year, said he wants to stay in the South End neighborhood, where low-income and elderly residents have come to depend on it.
``It's important for us to have a presence downtown," Bowen said. ``To remove that would not be a good move. We're here to stay."
The league issued a seven-page proposal last month soliciting developers to build a state-of-the-art facility at its 10 Chandler St. home. It must have office and veterinary space, animal housing (cages), canine exercise space, and 50 parking spaces below ground. The league's facilities would be at the lower levels, with the residential units above.
``We want a presence that would really communicate that this is our headquarters," said Bowen. The league rescues and sometimes houses a variety of animals, including cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, horses, and exotic wildlife.
Executives in the real estate industry said it would not be an easy proposition to combine barking dogs and well-heeled urban residents in the same tower.
``Tricky," said developer Steven B. Samuels, who is just finishing up the Trilogy apartment complex near Fenway Park. ``I love dogs, but that's pushing the envelope."
Others predicted some developers would bite on this offer.
``First of all, it's a fabulous location," said Kevin Ahearn, the president of Otis & Ahearn, brokers and consultants. ``Almost 30 percent of the residents downtown have dogs," he said. ``In condo buildings, we would never preclude dogs."
And Boston broker Beth Dickerson -- who recently bought her first dog, a West Highland White Terrier -- said this proposition is ``very, very feasible. There are many developers looking for creative deals."
Larry Tereso, a five-year resident of 3 Appleton St., is one of the Animal Rescue League's closest neighbors.
``The noises and barks are fairly controlled, and there's no smell," said Tereso. ``They actually contribute to the quality of the neighborhood."
However, for the new building, one major challenge will be insulating its residents from the normal operations of an animal shelter. That would include constructing separate ventilation systems, thick sound barriers, and entrances that are far enough apart in a single tower.
The league hired consultants to determine how much space it needs -- about 50,000 square feet on several lower floors. The site is zoned for about seven floors.
The league also has facilities in Brewster, Dedham, and Pembroke , a staff of 85 and hundreds of volunteers. In its request for proposals, it seeks ``purchase and redevelopment of the property into a mixed-use site . . . for the benefit of ARL's endowment while also providing a permanent state of the art facility."
The organization wants to continue operations even during redevelopment. It operates the Animal Care and Adoption Center, Community Veterinary Health Center, Animal Behavior Center, Humane Education Center, and rescue and law enforcement services.
Ideally, Bowen said, the league would buy back the space it occupies in a condominium ownership arrangement.
The group wants about 30,000 square feet on the first floor, 9,000 on the second floor, 25 underground parking spaces for staff and 25 for visitors, and 5,000 square feet of outdoor space for dogs to frolic.
Part of the garage space must be ``for loading an ambulance service ," the request states, but it notes that ``ambulances do not use sirens."
Proposals are due in the fall.
Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.