The development of Nubian Square seeks to ‘revive’ the arts economy in Blair Lot

The developers plan to transform a vacant lot in the center of Nubia Square into a vibrant, arts-inspired structure that would rekindle the heartbeat of the community. their proposal, a mixed-use development called Ascension of Nubia, will include a covered market, a performance hall and spaces where creators can live, collaborate and sell their work.

Over the past year, the Blair Lot has been the site of community gatherings, including outdoor festivals, galleries and markets. The developers hope to build on the mission defined by the current occupiers to enrich economic opportunities for the residents of Roxbury, many of whom are people of color.

Nubian Ascends would fill the corner of Nubian Square bordered by Washington, Palmer and Eustis streets and Harrison Avenue and would be easily accessible from the Nubian bus station which is just a block away. Approximately a quarter of the proposed 365,000 square foot area will be designated as open space, inviting the public to engage in a local culture that is built on a long history of artistic collaboration.

“There is a need for a different style of development,” said Kai Grant, one of the visionaries behind the proposed development. “We are rooted. We are nailed to the ground. And we decided to be the change we wanted to see when it comes to reviving the creative economy. “

Development plans for the Blair Lot at Roxbury’s Nubian Square are currently undergoing the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s approval process. The wasteland was recently transformed by the Nubian Square Public Art Initiative with murals like “Reflection Eternal”, painted by ProBlak (Rob Gibbs) and Marka27 (Victor Quinonez).

Taylor Blackley for GBH News

According to Grant, she is a member of “one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse development teams Boston has ever seen … diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, origin. religious, etc. ”

Grant and her husband, Christopher, founded Black market in 2017 with a commitment to advancing economic justice, civic engagement and the arts. Their company was an inspiration behind Nubian Ascends, and development will be built around their existing storefront at 2136 Washington St.

Black Market provides black-owned small businesses with a forum to generate more sales and consumers, a a much needed space for economic empowerment considering the persistent wealth disparity between white and non-white Boston residentsGrants work with community partners to organize markets and events where local artists and vendors can sell their products and display their work. For example, Black Market has partnered with a creative agency Street theory host Nubia in the past four months. This series of outdoor art exhibits served as a colorful backdrop to an outdoor market and transformed the adjoining Blair Lot into a family-friendly community space.

“We’ve been working on this work for four or five years,” Grant said. “It’s not something that started – and it won’t end – with Nubian Square Ascends.”

Kai and Christopher Grant
Kai and Christopher Grant, the married couple who own Black Market, have lived with their children in Roxbury for over 25 years.

Taylor Blackley for GBH News

The couple’s longtime friend Richard Taylor, a Roxbury real estate and local developer, purchased the aging three story building at the end of Palmer Street in the Blair Lot in 2019. This building is in the process of being converted into Nubian Gallery, which will serve as home to Nubian Ascends and be integrated into the new development.

Taylor approach grants with the Nubian Ascends Development Proposal because he was impressed with the work they had done to revitalize the region with the Nubia Square Public Art Initiative.

The initiative is at the origin of the creation of three new large scale murals this summer, and a 500 feet “Black Lives Matter” Mural painted across Washington Street in June 2020.

“The idea was to really create an arts district for the city of Boston,” Grant said.

She also said the transformation of the landscape will continue to attract more foot traffic and commerce. Taylor’s vision for the space mirrored that of grants, a vibrant place that maximized opportunities for local artists and businesses.

While construction on the project is unlikely to begin until spring or early next summer, partnerships are already forming to involve the local workforce.

According to Taylor, the project intentionally supports minority and women-owned businesses to celebrate the cultural diversity of the neighborhood.

Taylor works with the construction company Consigli and form community partnerships to identify minority entrepreneurs to work on the project. They are also pursuing strategies such as recruitment fairs aimed at residents who live within a mile radius of the plaza.

“We are trying to establish a self-sustaining economy,” said Randy Rashawn, the managing director who leads renovations at the Nubian Gallery.

Randy Rashawn
Randy Rashawn, surrounded by plans for Nubian Ascends, is working hard to renovate the space that will house the Nubian Gallery.

Taylor Blackley for GBH News

Once the Nubian Gallery is ready, creators ranging from musicians and dancers to painters and hair braiders will be able to rent studio space. Rashawn is hoping the gallery will open before construction begins on the Nubian Ascends development, so they can start helping artists of all types bring their ideas to life – to skip the exhibit, but leave an impact.

The impact of Nubian Ascends will definitely be felt as there are seven distinct areas fulfilling different objectives. indicated in the proposal.

The edge of Nubian Ascends which is closest to the Nubian Bus Station will be the main plaza for general public use. It leads to a seven-story, 135,000 square foot building.

Inside, the developers envisioned a culinary market, with a full restaurant and bar that spans a balcony facing the plaza. The first two floors are designated as commercial space, to be filled with artisan vendors, many of which are small businesses owned by blacks migrating from the black market. Vendors will also be able to rent space to sell their wares along an accessible pedestrian crossing that will connect Washington Street to Harrison Avenue.

“One of the mantras of the project is to live, work, play, sell,” said Nick Brooks, project manager of the Collaborative dream (also known as MBE), a black-owned architectural firm whose culture “actively supports the hiring and professional development of under-represented groups and encourages collaboration with minority and women-owned contractors “. The MBE team is led by Gregory Minott and is responsible for the design and centerpiece of Nubian Ascends, a cultural venue that will transform the Blair Lot into an indoor performance venue.

MBE is also planning a building with 15 artists’ apartments, 10 of which will be designated social housing. A nearby artist lab will provide a space for creators to work and engage with the community. These would restore affordable living and working spaces for local artists, many of whom have already been evicted.

“There were more creatives than anyone can ever tell, and [Roxbury was] where they came from when they came to Boston, ”Rashawn said. “This is history, baby.”

Rashawn has seen the square deteriorate since the ’80s and’ 90s, when he said the neighborhood was filled with commotion. He managed studio spaces for the now defunct non-profit association Downtown Arts Sanctuary. They typically had around 150 weekly users and more than 1,000 monthly users, according to board member Rashwan. All were moved in 2018 when the space disappeared as a result of gentrification.

“I know there’s a great group of people out there who don’t just need space,” Rashawn said. “They need the feeling of collaboration.”

Blair Vacant Lot
Development plans for the Blair Lot at Roxbury’s Nubian Square are currently undergoing the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s approval process. The wasteland was recently transformed by the Nubian Square Public Art Initiative with murals like “1000 Hooves” painted by Stephen Hamilton with the help of Jeff Henriquez.

Taylor Blackley for GBH News

The development also hopes to connect young people with training for thriving sectors of Boston’s economy like the life sciences. For example, the top five floors of the market building are reserved for laboratory training and medical offices.

Taylor said he felt something was wrong about not seeing a strong connection between the Roxbury community workforce and such opportunities. He wants Nubian Ascends, in particular the planned parking lot for 300 cars, to complement the growth of nearby developments under consideration that will bring increased activity to the place, such as a campus moved to the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

A range of youth investment funds from Orchard Gardens, Madison Park, Wine Gardens and Lennox Gardens will also be set up. According to Taylor, these will allow young people to advance their entrepreneurial and educational aspirations.

As a resident, Grant has lingering concerns about how increased development may lead to further gentrification of the neighborhood. But she hopes that approaching development from an equity perspective will preserve and benefit the community.

“Space reclamation is extremely important to us,” Grant said. “This was our community before it got trendy, popular, before the Black Lives Matter protests, before the name change in November 2019. [Nubian Ascends] is the ability to actually see ourselves within our community, past, present and future.

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