A Long Road To Small Spaces For Creative Operators At The Speedway

A Long Road To Small Spaces For Creative Operators At The Speedway

It’s no secret that the projects we work on here at Graffito have long timelines. But when you’re deep in the work of something it takes reaching important milestones to help you step back and reflect on all the work that’s gone in over years to make something a reality. So it is with our work on The Charles River Speedway redevelopment in Brighton, which we are very excited to be out in the world leasing some pretty unique retail/maker/office space for right now (shameless plug: check out the leasing info here!).

Amidst all the challenges in our communities, the economy, and the retail marketplace today, actively marketing space aimed at small-scale and emerging retailer entrepreneurs and artisans feels like stepping into a sliver of sunshine.

A long road
Jesse and I first met the team from non-profit developer Architectural Heritage Foundation over five years ago. We sat with Sean McDonell and Kara Anderson of AHF over coffee at Swiss Bakers on Western Ave in Allston to hear about plans for the [very ambitious] restoration of a set of historic buildings that had long-ago fallen into significant disrepair. It had become the focus of neighborhood organizing to push the state to make good on a promise to rehab the site, and the local state representative made it his mission to see that through. The property was owned by the state and the buildings have had many different lives: the former headquarters of the Charles River park system, a short life as a police barracks for the old MDC parks police, then most recently as storage facility for the state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation. A full and detailed history can be found on the project website.

From the start AHF had the vision to believe this falling-down collection of buildings could be transformed into a beautifully restored historic gem that could become home to an electric collection of artists, makers, and retailers; and that the Speedway could become a meaningful community gathering space for the Allston Brighton community and destination for folks from across the city. Standing in their way, however, was years of legislative politicking at the State House to gain the legal authority to take over development rights, miles of regulatory road to travel, and historic tax credits to secure. In 2019 site control was secured and construction began – seven years after AHF first applied to the state’s Historic Curatorship Program designed to make historic properties like this available for redevelopment. We’re now on track to open to the public Spring 2021.

All along, through ups and downs, starts and stops, the vision for what the Speedway would become remained consistent: a revitalized place to eat, drink, shop, and gather for the community at large and a new destination along the Charles River. Within that vision was a focus on creating unique opportunities for local, independent retail entrepreneurs and artisans. That’s what the Graffito team is focused on carrying out right now.

Small spaces for creative users
You may have heard the news last fall that our friends at Notch Brewing up in Salem would be opening their newest taproom and brewing facility here at the Speedway, spilling out into the central courtyard to create an amazing new beer garden space. Notch will really help anchor this project and we’re excited for them to open in 2021. But another critical part of this project is a row of six small-format retail spaces (actual former horse stables!) that range in size from 170 to 256 square feet. These small spaces open onto the courtyard opposite Notch’s space. The goal for these spaces is to provide small space with straight forward gross rents on flexible short-term agreements to artisans, makers, creative retailers, and select food and beverage operators. Flexibility is key so that folks feel the freedom to experiment and take a risk. The spaces will be fully built-out so operators can just plug their own furnishing/fixtures in and be ready to go. We know how hard it is to be in the retail game right now and we don’t want these spaces to be a burden for folks to access. That’s been a core value of the project for as long as we’ve been involved and we’re especially grateful that the AHF team has maintained that value in these spaces today.

We’re now running a Call for Creative Operators to field interest from all manner of creative entrepreneurs who want to lease a small space in a really cool project and become a part of a special community of co-tenants. This is the real fun part for us of course. When we get to meet and engage with all manner of super creative and enterprising entrepreneurs. We also get to work with our long time friend Maggie Battista from Eat Boutique, whom we brought in to help the team plan and coordinate outreach to the maker community and lend her considerable experience to the project. Got an idea for how you’d use a small space to further animate the Speedway? Let us know! Importantly, we are interested in hearing from operators that are from the Allston/Brighton community and/or with a connection to the Charles River. We’re also eager to receive submissions from women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and other business owners from under-represented communities.

More info + tour date
All interested operators are asked to complete a Submission of Interest form here. We are also hosting an open house tour of the Speedway on November 16. Attendees are asked to RSVP to make sure we are able to maintain proper social distancing throughout the tour.

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