Once slated to become a temporary stadium for the Boston Olympics, Widett Circle is still a hot topic of debate for real estate development. On October 27, Suffolk University’s Center for Real Estate and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board hosted a panel discussion that explored how development would affect existing businesses and addressed potential issues surrounding residential expansion and public transit.
If Boston were to host the 2024 Olympics, the stadium would have eventually been transformed into a new, mixed-use development with hotels, workforce housing, and retail and office space. The plan also proposed relocating the New Boston Food Market, a co-operative of meat and seafood distribution companies—something that co-op representatives said they would be open to in the past.
But some panelists considered alternatives to relocation, such as re-zoning, consolidating, innovating, and building up. Architect David Lee explained that many of the Widett Circle buildings are one-story tall. Building up would allow for more density.
Lee and former Boston city councilor Mike Ross also talked about the possibility of building new housing. Ross suggested that some people, particularly artists, might prefer to live in an industrial area and would not be bothered by the noise of industry.
But Susan Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, which represents more than 200 businesses near Widett Circle, was skeptical that residential and commercial buildings could co-exist. “It’s very, very difficult,” she said, noting that Widett Circle is home to the “keystone businesses” of Greater Boston area. Instead, she advocated for expanding with innovative industrial uses.
Sullivan also said that the local businesses need to be an intimate part of the planning discussions.
“The New Market area is vast, and with right amount of planning, we can make it better,” said Ross. He noted that the New England Revolution soccer team is considering nearby space for a new soccer stadium. The new stadium could act as a buffer between residential and industrial buildings, he said.
“Widett Circle is the heartbeat of our economy,” said Richard Dimino, CEO of the planning advocacy nonprofit A Better City. While there are many opportunities for multi-use development, Dimino called for strategic planning, as the area plays a critical role future development of many nearby areas.
Tom O'Brien, founding partner and managing director of The HYM Investment Group, said that Widett Circle could be a bridge to surrounding neighborhoods. However, he also noted that fixing the MBTA is an “economic necessity” that’s crucial to Widett Circle's development.
If there’s one thing that the speakers agreed on, it’s that Widett Circle is key to Boston’s future. Strategic planning and discussions with local businesses will determine just what that future looks like.
The event was moderated by NECN Business Editor Peter Howe and was part of the Building Boston 2030 series. These public talks address Boston development and public policies that can help the city create good jobs, maintain a skilled workforce, and attract private capital.