In the lobby of 7Ink, the seventh and final building in the mixed-use Ink Block development on the edge of Boston’s South End, a 15-foot scoreboard from the former Boston Garden hovers over a stairwell. The stairs lead to a cozy book nook, with colorful design touches like an orange landline phone (disconnected, of course), and then to several work-from-home zones. Further along are two bright-white vending machines selling COVID-19 tests, CBD gummies, and chicken tikka masala, along with ramen, Tide Pods, and multivitamins.
7Ink is the first building of its kind in Boston, said Ted Tye, managing partner of Ink Block developer National Development — a large apartment building that rents by the bedroom, not by the unit. It has double the amenity space of a standard apartment building, multiple weekly events for residents, and promises “all-inclusive” living: units come furnished, with utilities — including Internet and cleaning services — covered in the rent. There’s even a system for pairing roommates together that Tye jokingly likens to a dating app.
With Easy Mac and ramen in the vending machines, communal living rooms with comfy couches, and smaller-than-average units — some with Murphy beds — 7Ink does feel more akin to a residence hall for grown-ups than a luxury apartment building. Tye recognizes the “inclusive living” style isn’t for everyone. But there’s a niche that the building has already tapped into, he said: renters in their early 20s and 30s who can “move in with a suitcase,” such as a new hire moving in from out of state or a medical worker coming to town for an internship. Rents for studios are around $2,400 a month, while a unit in a three- or four-bedroom suite is about $1,900.
The property, which opened last month, brings to close a massive project that began nearly a decade prior at the former home of the Boston Herald and came to represent a certain type of large-scale, mixed-use development that has since sprouted in various corners of the city. Today, the seven-building Ink Block complex includes nearly 650 apartments and condos, a 205-room AC Hotel by Marriott, and 75,000 square feet of retail space including a Whole Foods grocery, Yellow Door Taqueria, and several fitness studios. For a memento of what once was, The Herald’s silver metal nameplate is now fastened above the craft beer section at the Whole Foods.
Of course, this corner of the South End had a life before the Herald as well: It formed Boston’s “New York Streets” neighborhood — its streets named not for Manhattan but the upstate Erie Canal towns linked by railroad to Boston in the 1840s — which the city razed in the name of urban renewal prior to the razing of the West End and Scollay Square. Mel King grew up there.
“There were 27 different nationalities who lived here,” Tye said. “It was kind of a classic Boston neighborhood.”
National Development first considered building at what’s now Ink Block in 2006, and demolition to make way for the project began in 2013. In the years since, new development popped up around it, including several more luxury residential buildings and a forthcoming office and lab.
Ink Block has extended as well to the Interstate 93 underpass that had long separated South Boston and the South End, formerly a fenced-in, unlit no man’s land of — as the Globe once wrote — “illicit activity and unsavory characters” called The Stacks. National Development won a state-sponsored request for proposals for a long-term lease on the property, added lights, signage, and security along with events like fitness classes, and renamed the place Underground at Ink Block. Muralists have transformed drab grey cement pillars into eye-catching street art, with pops of bright pinks, blues, and yellows.
That transformation also opened up the half-mile connection between the South End and Southie.
“The distance from here to Broadway station, to the T — no one would ever walk it, because it didn’t feel safe,” Tye said. “Now people walk to the Red Line all day long. … The connectivity between the South End and South Boston wasn’t there before, and that’s something that worked really, really well.”