When Mattapan residents pass by the old Cote Ford dealership on Cummins Highway, some see a symbol of neglect -- a boarded-up beige brick building, with graffiti on the walls and weeds cracking through the pavement.
Now, more than three decades after the dealership closed, this key piece of real estate is coming back to life.
"Cote Village, we believe, is a significant investment in the future of Mattapan,” said Lincoln Larmond, a development advocate and co-chair of the group Mattapan United. “Historically there's been a lot of disinvestment in Mattapan."
The Cote Ford site, Larmond said, "had been vacant for 30 years, so that alone will demonstrate the fact that it’s been a long time coming."
The $28 million Cote Village was the winning bid in the city's quest to develop the abandoned site. The plan is to build 76 apartments, set aside for families earning a range of incomes, as well as a community area and some commercial space.
A stone's throw from the development, a new stop on the commuter rail — Blue Hill Avenue Station — is under construction. With the momentum of these two projects, advocates hope more development is spurred in the years ahead.
The Fairmount Line station, which is scheduled to open next year, represents a $17 million investment by the state, and it helped to trigger the redevelopment of the Cote property nearby.
Cote Village was proposed by Caribbean Integration Community Development (CIDC). The group's Donald Alexis says the project highlights the positives of Mattapan — something rarely captured on the evening news.
"This is a very great community, there's a lot of diversity, there's a lot of great activities happening there, but people never talk about it,” Alexis said. “So we seek to create that catalyst to attract people from outside to come shop and dine here.”
Alexis notes that Cote Village is Mattapan's first housing development subsidized by federal tax credits since 2006.
By comparison, federal records show Dorchester has had nine such developments during that period. Dorchester's population is much larger, but there's also fewer advocacy groups clamoring for housing dollars.
The Boston Archdiocese's Planning Office for Urban Affairs is the other developer behind Cote Village. The group’s president, Lisa Alberghini, said it’s clear there has been a lack of investment in Mattapan, but she thinks Cote Village is evidence this is starting to change.
Alberghini said groups like Mattapan United and CIDC are coalescing — and that means "more opportunity for investment."
"There needs to be local leadership that’s giving the city and the commonwealth an opportunity to work with local partners to make this happen,” Alberghini said.
Some say the lack of investment has left Mattapan struggling to catch up with a booming Boston economy.
The typical family in Mattapan, where more than 80 percent of residents are of African descent, makes $10,000 less than the rest of Boston families, census figures show.
Mattapan wants change, but residents like Barbara Fields, an abutter to the Cote site and longtime community advocate, want that change to benefit locals first. They see gentrification in neighborhoods like East Boston and Roxbury as a cautionary tale.
"Mattapan seems to be primed for development right now,” Fields said.
Fields hopes the property can strike a balance between development and the kind of gentrification that leaves residents out in the cold.
"We’re not opposed to development and moving forward," Fields said, "but we do not want just any kind of development, and we don’t want to change the positive things about Mattapan [like] the fact that we have trees and there is land."
That means Fields wants less density, and she opposed other proposals for the Cote site that sought more apartments than the 76 units in store for Cote Village. (Fields also opposed the commuter rail station that’s being built behind her house.)
Home values in Mattapan are a third less than the rest of Boston, but Fields said something strange is starting to happen: Calls are coming in from people looking to buy homes in the neighborhood, pressuring her to sell.
Fields doesn't like what that says about the direction Mattapan is headed.
"The times right now seem to be moving in the benefit of those who want to gentrify for financial purposes,” she said. "And so I think we have to be vigilant and stay on top of it so that the neighborhood does not get hurt by this.”
Field said she’s disappointed that a collaboration fell through between the developers of Cote Village and the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, which was part of the original Cote Village pitch. The club was considering establishing a presence on the Cote site, but both said they were unable to reach an agreement.
Fields still supports the proposal, but without the BGCB presence on the site, she said she might not have testified before the zoning board in favor of the project.
The developers say they continue to search for a partner that can offer preteen services at the Cote site.
Construction on Cote Village is slated to begin this summer, and open 15 months later.
This segment aired on February 8, 2018.