Bradley Square project must reset
Backers of the Bradley Square affordable housing development in Oak Bluffs are regrouping, after recent financial setbacks put the project, as it is currently designed and permitted, in jeopardy.
The retrenchment comes as the Island Affordable Housing Fund, a member of the development consortium, struggles with fundraising efforts, and after the Oak Bluffs community preservation act committee rejected a recent request for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. At its December 17 meeting, the committee voted 9-0 against the housing fund's application for an additional $400,000 to preserve and restore the Denniston Church building, which now sits on the property at the corner of Masonic Avenue and Dukes County Avenue. The building is the site of the Island's first African American church.
"The preservation of that structure is at risk at this point, absolutely," Ewell Hopkins, executive director of the housing fund, said. "But no decisions have been made."
CPA money can be used for historic preservation, affordable housing, or preservation of open space. At the 2009 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters authorized $400,000 for the Bradley Square project for affordable housing.
Mr. Hopkins said the housing fund is now meeting with donors to redefine the Bradley Square project in a way that will make the plan's reshaped goals clear to the public.
"What we did was design a project based on a lot of people's desires, but not a lot of people's commitments," Mr. Hopkins said. "The biggest hurdle we're facing is ambiguity. It's attempting to be so many things to so many different people. Would it be a better strategy to do one of those things, or a couple of those things, and do it well?"
Housing fund co-chairman Candy daRosa said the board is not ready to give up on the concept of Bradley Square as a multi-use development, but the reality of the fundraising climate will decide the future. "It really does depend on who steps up, what kind of funding support they give us," she said. "We're going to honor who comes to the rescue and where they would like to see the project go.
"Right now there are some serious donors, in terms of the arts, who are concerned about housing and studio space for artists. They are the ones giving us the most helpful indications. We were hoping there were going to be people who appreciated the historic aspects of the Denniston building and who would want to preserve that history. They can't just care about that conceptually, they have to care from their pocketbooks."
Mr. Hopkins said the housing fund has raised approximately $400,000 to date, of which $200,000 went to a down payment on the mortgage on the property. Another $400,000 in Oak Bluffs CPA money is committed to the project.
"The fundraising for the project hasn't started yet, in my mind," Mr. Hopkins said. "To responsibly break ground, we need to raise another $2 million."
While the future of the historic preservation part of the project is unclear, Mr. Hopkins said he has no doubt that the Bradley Square development will be built. "It has to be built," he said. "The question is, in what form?"
Housing advocates are equally adamant about the viability of the project, but less certain about what form it will take.
"Those who are advocates for Bradley Square need to come together and make a game plan," said Ron DiOrio, an Oak Bluffs selectman and chairman of the affordable housing committee. "It's a matter of what's going to work. It will work in its current form, but I think that question has to be revisited in light of the current economic climate. It's critical that people who are advocates for Bradley Square, including me, sit down and look at that reality. It may be in its current form, or it may be scaled down."