Fort Point Channel is a Boston neighborhood with a rich past — and a neighborhood undergoing tremendous change.

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The Fort Point Arts Community, Inc. of South Boston (FPAC) is a non-profit community organization founded in 1980 and run by neighborhood artists and volunteers. Its mission is to enrich the Fort Point area with a resident live/work artist population that contributes to the district’s and the City of Boston’s cultural life.

What follows is a history of Fort Point describing the forces that lead to the creation of Midway studios.  This is excerpted from a presentation created by FPAC in 2010.

 

Thanks goes out to Lisa Greenfield, FPAC and the pioneer artists who laid the groundwork; turning an area of vacant buildings and shooting galleries into the most dynamic area in Boston.

The neighborhood is located near the South Station rail hub. Today, the historic core is surrounded by a sea of parking lots - acres of underutilized land ripe for development due to the proximity to public transit, the highway systems, downtown the financial district, Logan airport, and sweeping harbor views. The historic warehouse buildings are the core of the neighborhood.

From the 1880’s through the 1920’s The Boston Wharf Company built brick and timber buildings for warehousing of raw materials for industry. Initially sugar and molasses, followed by wool as the area became the wool capital of the country.

Gillette, the US Postal Service and printing companies followed. During the 1940’s many businesses moved elsewhere and the buildings became vacant.

During the 1970’s artists began to move into the neighborhood, attracted to the affordable, vast spaces. The artists formed the Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC) to represent artists’ interests and held the first Open Studios in 1980.

Development pressure began in the early 1980’s with a large scale redevelopment proposal for Fan Pier. At the time, Mayor White declared Fort Point Boston’s “New Frontier.” Property values soared and small businesses were forced to leave the neighborhood. Most of the 300 artists with studios were threatened with displacement.

At the same time the importance of the artistic presence in Fort Point and in Boston was stressed in the local papers. There were calls for the Boston Redevelopment Authority to “ensure the artists’ security” before approving development plans.

With the continuing threat to the community’s stability, the artists began to organize with the goal of purchasing a building for permanent space. Artists purchased 249 A Street in 1983 and converted the building into 35 studios in a limited equity coop.

249 A Street was formed and the Artist Handbook, written by FPAC’s Jero Nesson, becomes a national model. 

To address the continuing pressures and shortage of legal, affordable live/work space, and to keep artists in the City, FPAC artists purchased 300 Summer Street in 1995 and converted it into 48 live/work studios and arts related commercial spaces in a limited equity coop. The building houses FPAC’s gallery and office, a frame shop, café and related businesses.

At the height of the artist community, more than 600 artists lived and worked and ran small businesses in the neighborhood., contributing to the vibrancy and appeal of the district.….

In 2005, Archon/Goldman purchased a portfolio of 17 properties from Boston Wharf. They presented a vision to create a SOHO for the South Boston Waterfront. While they told the community and the City one thing, they presented a different face to their investors revealing that their true goal was to go through the rezoning process to obtain substantially more allowed floor area and then to flip the properties. ...

In buildings that were once thriving with artist work space, dark windows and vacant spaces became the norm.

Keen Development was hired as development consultant and construction manager to convert the property into 48 live/work studios and 7 arts-related commercial condominiums. The building also houses a cafe, arts-related businesses and FPAC's gallery and office. The renovation scope was extensive but held to a budget of less than $75 per square foot (total development costs) to maintain affordability.

Major infrastructure projects, including the clean-up of Boston Harbor, the construction of the Silver Line, Harbor Walk, and Big Dig -- and the construction of the Convention Center ---further contributed to increases in property values and real estate speculation.

In 2002 the Fort Point Development Corporation formed to redevelop 24-34 Midway Street into 89 permanent artist live/ work studios and arts related commercial uses. This was part of Beacon Capital Partners’ Channel Center development and the building was sold to the FPDC for $1 as mitigation for the additional floor area ratio (FAR) granted to Beacon for their other properties on the site.

Completed in spring 2005, Midway Studios is a project of the Fort Point Development Collaborative (FPDC). FPDC is a joint venture of Keen Development Corporation and the Fort Point Cultural Coalition, Inc.

Midway was created in 2005. Its developer, Bob Kuehn, died unexpectedly in 2006, leaving the future of the building in limbo. The purchase of Midway by the  Midway Artist Collective would be a great step in assuring the continued the legacy of Fort Point as both the oldest artist community in New England, and a dynamic place for the exchange and exploration of new ideas.

 

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