By Jon Banister, Bisnow Deputy East Coast Editor

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has selected a pair of Black-owned firms to build a 21-story development on state-owned land in downtown Boston, its first selection using a new equity-focused scoring model.

The MassDOT board on Wednesday approved the selection of the team led by Peebles Corp. and Genesis Cos., one of six teams that bid on the 1.4-acre site, the Boston Globe reported.

The site, known as Parcel 25, sits at the intersection Kneeland and Lincoln streets, less than a half-mile from South Station. The vacant lot sitting above I-93 was left over from the Big Dig and was unsuccessfully put out to developers in 2016 before this latest process, according to the Globe.

"It is filling in this gap and connecting the neighborhood better, making it more accessible and creating some more life there," Peebles Corp. founder and CEO Don Peebles told Bisnow in an interview Thursday.

The Peebles-Genesis team plans to build 585K SF across 21 stories, including 309K SF of lab and research space, 218 apartments on the upper floors and ground-floor retail. About 40% of the apartments are planned to be income-restricted.

The team is ground-leasing the site from the state and paying $61.5M upfront and then an annual rent starting at $1M, which escalates by 2.5% every year for 99 years, a price Peebles said will eventually total more than $500M. He said the project's life sciences component will cover the price and subsidize the affordable units, given the high demand for lab space in Boston.

"We tried to create a financially viable project that also addresses the need for affordable housing, and so we were able to do that," Peebles said. "In order for us to make a dent in housing affordability, the private sector and developers are going to have to take more initiative and use more creativity."

The development still needs to go through entitlements and permitting. Peebles said the team aims to break ground in March 2024 and deliver the project in Q3 2026.

MassDOT selected the developers from a group of six competing teams that also included a joint venture of Alexandria Real Estate Equities and National Development, a joint venture of Brookfield Properties and Menkiti Group, BioMed Realty, Lupoli Cos. and Trinity Financial Inc.

The agency for the first time used a strategy called the Massport Model that factors the diversity of the bidders as 25% of the scoring, along with other factors, including the purchase price, the mix of uses and the design. In addition to the two New York-based developers being Black-owned firms, Peebles said his team also includes architecture and construction firms owned by people of color.

"The commonwealth of Massachussets under Gov. [Charlie] Baker is certainly committed to economic inclusion," Peebles said. "There's a great opportunity going forward in the commonwealth to do significant business for minority firms. That’s one of the things we focused on, is having a very diverse and talented team, and we’re real proud of it."

Credit: Bisnow