Boston commercial buildings

Long-planned Fenway Center in Boston is about to rise!

Courtesy of Tim Logan of the Boston Globe

An artist's rendering of the Fenway Center project, being built with air rights above the Massachusetts Turnpike. DESIGN DISTILL STUDIO

The drive into downtown Boston from the west is about to change forever. So is the walk from Kenmore Square over to Fenway Park.

That’s because work is set to begin imminently on the long-planned Fenway Center project, which will put a two-acre deckfollowed by a 350-foot tower, above the Massachusetts Turnpike between Brookline Avenue and Beacon Street. It’s a development two decades in the planning that promises to transform the western edge of the city’s core, knitting together two neighborhoods that have long been split by a highway.

Late Friday afternoon, the developers — a partnership of Beverly-based Meredith Management and the life-sciences developer IQHQ — closed on a $55 million deal to lease so-called air rights from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Now they’ll get to work on the deck, a two-year project that involves driving about 500 piles into the sides and median of the Mass. Pike, then laying 90,000 square feet of steel over them to serve as the base for a massive complex of buildings.

“It’s a very ambitious project, obviously. It’s complicated, it’s time-consuming,” said IQHQ’s chief investment officer, John Bonanno. “And we feel it’s transformational, reconnecting Back Bay to the Fenway where the highway has separated them for a very long time.”

It’s the largest project of its kind since Copley Place was built in the early 1980s, and the second underway on the Mass. Pike now. A half-mile east of Fenway Center is a project known as Parcel 12, where developer Samuels & Associates started work last summer on a deck that will hold an office building, hotel, and plaza along the western side of Massachusetts Avenue.

That project already requires that one lane be closed each way on the Pike, closures that will be extended for, and coordinated with, Fenway Center’s. It effectively means the turnpike will narrow to three lanes near Boston University, rather than around Mass. Ave., where it did before construction on the air-rights projects began.

So far, the Parcel 12 lane closings have had little impact on traffic, said Scott Bosworth, undersecretary of transportation and chief strategy officer at MassDOT. Travel on the Pike is still 40 percent below pre-pandemic levels, but Bosworth said he expects the lane closures won’t be a problem even as more commuters get back on the road.

“We’re confident that the traffic management plan, the highway management plan, is a good one,” he said. “It will not lead to any substantial impacts to the motoring public.”

Closing the deal is a victory for the transportation agency, which has seen a number of air-rights projects stumble over the years due to their engineering and economic complexities. But under Governor Charlie Baker, MassDOT has tried to streamline its approval process, and now work is underway on large projects at Parcel 12 and above the tracks at South Station. Fenway Center would be the third. The developers’ $55 million upfront lease payment is the largest such deal MassDOT has yet made.

“We’re creating revenue from the taxpayers’ assets, and that’s important,” Bosworth said. “We’re also creating opportunities [to build] where there aren’t any.”

It is also a huge win for developer John Rosenthal, who has been working on the Fenway Center project for two decades, through multiple administrations on Beacon Hill and in City Hall. His Meredith Management firm has already financed and built Lansdowne Station on the commuter rail, which opened in 2014, as well as a pair of mid-rise apartment buildings that opened last year next to the train station.

Now he’ll get to start work on the main course: a million-square-foot tower aimed at life-sciences companies a structure that will pop on the city’s skyline and transform a windswept canyon between Kenmore Square and Fenway Park.

“It’s kind of the pinnacle of this vision,” Rosenthal said. “It really is a new gateway into Boston.”

To make it happen, Rosenthal had to flip his plans for the tower from housing to lab space, to bring in the kind of deep-pocketed partners who could finance the billion-dollar price tag. That’s IQHQ, a California life-sciences development company led by the founder of an industry giant, BioMed Realty.

IQHQ, which has raised $2.5 billion in equity in less than two years, will pay for construction of the $200 million deck, then seek financing for the tower. It’s a huge bet, Bonanno acknowledged, but one the firm is happy to make, given Fenway Center’s proximity to the Longwood Medical Area and the huge demand for life-sciences space in Boston.

Still, the developers are building without a tenant, in part because the four-year process of constructing the deck and tower means the project will open too far in the future for companies to commit to leasing space. Marketing is likely to start in earnest once the deck starts to take shape.

Real estate analysts say there is demand on the horizon for millions of square feet of lab space, powered by the investment that’s pouring into drug companies in the Boston area.

There’s a lot of lab space coming, too, with projects planned or underway throughout Greater Boston. But few, Bonanno said, are like this one, with its proximity to both Longwood and Kendall Square, on top of a commuter rail station, and steps from Fenway Park and a quickly changing Kenmore Square.

“It’s really unique,” he said. “There are lots of well-conceived projects in good locations, but there aren’t many that will be as do as much for an area as Fenway Center . . . When you go underneath our project you’ll know that you’ve arrived in Boston.”

Tim Marsh

Co-Owner | Broker

Marsh Properties, Inc.



Kenmore Square's Citgo sign development to include two new buildings

by Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston

Commonwealth Building  Renderings courtesy of Related Beal

Developer Related Beal has filed detailed plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency that would add two new buildings to Kenmore Square—one of which Boston’s most famous sign would bestride. 

The plans include incorporating 660 Beacon Street, which has been holding up the famed 60-foot-by-60-foot Citgo sign since 1965, into one of the new buildings. 

The prolific Related Beal bought 660 Beacon and several other buildings in the area in 2016, touching off speculation that the sign was doomed. 

Organized opposition to its demolition arose even before the sale, when former owner Boston University announced it was putting the buildings on the block. Related Beal and the oil concern behind the sign struck a deal in March 2017 intended to keep the clarion beaming for decades.

And it will likely do so from atop a major office development, as the recently filed details make plain.

Plans include construction of an eight-story property called the Commonwealth Building at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield Street. It would have 130,000 square feet of modern office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, 60 underground parking spaces, and rooftop terraces with what Related Beal describes in a release as “unmatched views of Kenmore Square and the Charles River.”

Beacon Building

As for 660 Beacon, it would be renovated and incorporated into a 143,000-square-foot Beacon Building, per the developer, “an adaptive re-use development that will include more than 110,000 square feet of re-positioned office space and 18,000 square feet of retail space.”

Related Beal expects the office space to go quickly in the Boston-area’s rather scorching office market. It cited a recent brokerage report which concluded that “[office] vacancies in Boston and Cambridge will remain at or near all-time lows.”

The developer wants to start construction during the first three months of 2019. Stay tuned.


Boston's height limit: Will the city ever pierce 800 feet?

Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston

Boston, Downtown, Massachusetts, Scenic

In much the same way that the middle-class is unlikely to enjoy a renaissance in Boston, developers are unlikely to ever pierce 800 feet in terms of building height.

At least not for the foreseeable future.

The city’s tallest building by 2020 will be the same as it is today: 200 Clarendon (the former Hancock), which stretches to 790 feet at its tallest architectural detail, not counting antennae and other apparatus. 

The second-tallest will also be the same, too: The 749-foot Pru. 

The third will likely be new: The under-construction One Dalton hotel-residential tower in Back Bay is slated to stretch to 742 feet at its highest architectural feature. 

After these three, Boston’s 10 or so tallest buildings by 2020 will stretch little beyond the 700-foot mark. 

What’s holding the city back from building to 800 feet, 900 feet, (gasp!) 1,000 feet? The sagas of two arrested developments—both garage conversions, in fact—illustrate the answer.

Developer Millennium Partners had at one point proposed building a 775-foot mixed-use tower, including condos, at the site of the shuttered Winthrop Square Garage at 240 Devonshire Street. (Millennium bought the garage from the city, and originally proposed a still-significant 750-foot project, before bumping that to 775 feet in November 2016.)

Then concerns about the shadows such a tower would cast on landmarks slowed the requisite approvals. Then federal regulatory concerns about the effects of such a height on planes in and out of Logan slowed approvals some more. 

So the height started dropping—first to 702 feet and then to 691 feet at the start of 2018. The project would still pencil out to 1.6 million square feet of space, including 640,000 square feet of condos. But the height, it’s 84 feet off the boldest plan. 

And even with such reductions and a relaxation of state rules governing shadows in Boston’s historic core, the Winthrop Square Garage project remains uncertain nearly 18 months after Millennium reached a deal with the city to acquire the garage. 

Attempts to redevelop another Boston garage stretch back much further than the efforts at Winthrop Square. 

The Chiofaro Co. has owned the 1,380-space Boston Harbor Garage at 270 Atlantic Avenue since 2007, and has been trying to redevelop it pretty much since then.

Previous projects have included a two-tower complex that included hotel rooms and condos—and an ice rink as part of a year-round open space—and a single skyscraper with offices and condos.

Disputes with the neighbors, including the New England Aquarium, have held up the plans, however, and, while the single-tower proposal appeared to take a big step forward last winter, plans still remained up in the air.

That was until February 2018, when the Boston Planning and Development Agency proposed allowing Chiofaro to build a tower as high as 600 feet in exchange for establishing a fund worth up to $30 million to compensate the aquarium for any disruptions and to set aside parking for the institution. 

Chiofaro would also be on the hook for a so-called Blueway extension of the Kennedy Greenway. Moreover, open public space would have to be a sizable part of Chiofaro’s development under the BPDA plan.

All in all, the plan would allow for the tallest tower ever along Boston Harbor. Chiofaro appears amenable to the deal’s terms, including the aquarium’s indemnification against loss of visitors/business.

Still, the tower might yet tarry: The state could take up to two months to review the BPDA plan; then it’s another round of local and state permitting; and Chiofaro hasn’t settled on a final design to even propose.

There is also continuing opposition from the owners in the neighboring Harbor Towers complex.

An amalgam of regulatory hurdles, neighborhood concerns-slash-opposition, seemingly unchangeable infrastructure, and Boston’s simple geography appears to be the insurmountable obstacle to building beyond 800 feet. 

Meanwhile, the city continues to grapple with an infamous housing crunch that causes Manhattan-esque prices and to work overtime to draw and retain commercial tenants

What’d you think? In your lifetime, will you see an 800-footer in Boston? 

Financial District's 50 Post Office Square getting a glassy new lobby.

By Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston.

The owner of the Art Deco office building at 50 Post Office Square in Boston’s Financial District is planning to erect a new lobby on High Street with a 35-foot glass curtain and an indoor-outdoor LED board. 

Think the Apple Store outside of Manhattan’s General Motors Building, though not as detached. 

The board at 50 Post Office is supposed to highlight the way people move through the lobby and the street along it, per the Globe’s Tim Logan

The lobby is the latest addition to a changing Financial District. The office tower at 100 Federal Street is getting a glass atrium on the sidewalk, and the owners of One Post Office Square are sheathing that 41-story commercial building in glass, with a three-story glass pavilion at the tower’s base. 

That pavilion will include nearly 8,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space as well as a public passageway between One Post Office and the adjacent Langham Hotel.

It’s all toward making the Financial District more competitive in an office market with more options than a few years back.