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No to Downtown? State May Back RMV Into Dudley Square

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[Rendering of the redone Ferdinand Building; Sasaki Associates and Mecanoo Architects]

The Boston branch of the Registry of Motor Vehicles may soon have a new home, according to public documents posted on the web. But will the relocation revitalize a neighborhood?

The Boston branch of the RMV was relocated to the corner of Washington and Essex streets in Chinatown more than a decade ago. In those days the area was known as the combat zone, a seedy and often dangerous neighborhood famous for pornography and prostitutes. When the RMV relocated there from Nashua Street in 1998 it provided the catalyst for the $7 million renovation of the historic Liberty Tree building and continued a trend in urban renewal that sought to revitalize the combat zone by investing in new public buildings and offices with hopes that private investment would follow.

The trend began in 1981, with the the construction of the State Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza, part of a hard-fought redevelopment plan to revitalize the heart of Boston. Today, the strategy is clearly a success, with gleaming high-rise buildings standing where parking lots once lay and construction cranes dotting the skyline as thousands of luxury residences are added to the area. The combat zone is no more, but will the next relocation of the RMV be a repeat of this success story?
Official state documents posted on the web indicate that MassDOT is seriously considering relocating the Registry of Motor Vehicles to the vacant upper floors of a state-owned building in downtown Boston known as Parcel 7. The building, located above Big Dig highway tunnels and the Haymarket Station of the T, houses three floors of parking; four floors of vacant office space; and ground-floor retail that is the future home to the Boston Public Market.. In minutes from an Aug. 9, 2011, meeting of the Boston Public Market Commission reference is made to "current discussions about making the upper floors MassDOT office space, including the potential relocation of the Chinatown branch of the Registry of Motor Vehicles." An additional document from Feb. 17, 2012, reveals that "the Registry of Motor Vehicles is one proposed use of the space on the second and third floors of Parcel 7, primarily as a retail branch and hearing center," although "those plans have not been finalized."

One reason why "those plans have not been finalized" may be the Menino administration's Dudley Square initiative, an effort to restore the commercial heart of Roxbury reminiscent of the strategy used to renew the combat zone. Work is already under way there to redevelop the long dilapidated Ferdinand Building to house new city offices for the city's Department of Education. At the same time, a portfolio of publicly-owned parcels nearby is designated for redevelopment. According to sources in City Hall, some officials see the RMV as the perfect addition to the mix in Dudley Square because it would bring thousands of customers and hundreds of state workers to the area.

Will the state double down on economic development in Dudley Square by moving the RMV there, or will it fill the upper floors of the Parcel 7 building instead? Stay tuned. — A. Contributor

· City Breaks Ground on Expectations for Dudley Square [Curbed Boston]
· Dudley Done Right: Slice of Roxbury Busy, Busy, Busy [Curbed Boston]

Dudley Square

Dudley Street, Boston, MA 02119