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Fenway

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.

tim@bostonluxuryrealestate.com

617-548-7145

Boston's Neighborhoods: How They Got Their Names.

By Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston

Geography, infills, independence movements—all played roles in shaping the city’s positional vocab.Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

Boston is named after the town of Boston in eastern England. But what about the city’s neighborhoods? A lot of them have similar roots in old Albion, while a sizable chunk are tethered etymologically to geography. 

Read on for the origin stories of Boston’s 22 large neighborhoods.

Allston

This neighborhood was for years simply the stockyards and rail yards of the town of Brighton. It also had a post office and quite a bit of woodlands. 

One gentlemen who liked to hike the woodlands was the painter Washington Allston, who lived across the Charles River in Cambridge.

By the time Boston annexed the area in 1874, it was known by his surname.

Back Bay

This photo from 1858 shows the Back Bay on the left and the Charles River on the right.  Public domain.

There is a reason many people call this neighborhood the Back Bay: From 1857 to 1882, one of the largest urban infrastructure projects in U.S. history filled in about 450 acres of pestilential tidal basin known colloquially as “the Back Bay.” 

Beacon Hill

 

A depiction from 1811 of the reduction of Beacon Hill to 80 feet from 138.  Wikimedia Commons

Multiple hills—some say three, some say five—comprised what became Beacon Hill, one of the first settled areas on the Shawmut Peninsula.

One of those hills became known as Beacon Hill because of a signaling beacon on it; and the name stuck. 

Bay Village

The smallest neighborhood that the city itself breaks out, Bay Village was born in the 1820s as the collection of homes for the workers who built the tonier nearby Beacon Hill. Therefore the architecture looks similar. 

Bay Village used to go at various times by the Church Street District, South Cove, and Kerry Village. Bay Village stuck, perhaps given its immediate geographic proximity to the pre-infill Back Bay. 

Brighton

Brighton was its own town until Boston annexed it in 1873. 

By that point, it had been independent for only about half a century; and, before that, was known, along with what became Allston, as an agricultural and cattle-rustling appendage of Cambridge that went by the diminutive nickname Little Cambridge. 

It changed its name to Brighton, after a town in southern England, upon independence in 1807. 

Charlestown

Charlestown was named for—wait for it—an English king named Charles; in this case, Charles I, the Stuart on the losing end of the English Civil War. 

Europeans began settling what became Charlestown in 1629—20 years before Charles I lost his head—and it remained an independent municipality until 1874, when Boston annexed it. 

Chinatown

This neighborhood is named after its predominant ethnic group; though rising housing costs and other reasons for emigration have reduced the number of residents of Chinese descent. 

Dorchester

A regional map from 1858.  Walling, H. F.—David Rumsey Collection

Boston’s largest neighborhood by area is named for Dorchester, a town in southern England. 

Dorchester, USA, was an independent town until 1870, when Boston gobbled it. As a town, it included parts of what became known as South Boston. 

East Boston

The infill-spurred linkage over 150 years of five islands east of Boston formed this neighborhood. And the “east of Boston” bit gave it its name. 

The neighborhood’s private developers saw to its annexation to Boston in 1836. 

Fenway

Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans for the Back Bay Fens, circa 1887  Public domain

Take your pick: This neighborhood’s name came either from the Back Bay Fens, a park that landscape architect extraordinaire Frederick Law Olmsted designed, or from a road that ran along it. Fens, incidentally, is a term to describe a marshy or flood-prone area, which this eventual neighborhood was.

Boston annexed Fenway and its Kenmore Square and Audubon Circle areas from Brookline in the 1870s.  It’s sometimes called “the Fenway”—often an unconscious nod to the theory that the neighborhood was named for the road. 

Hyde Park

Boston’s southernmost neighborhood—and the last to be added through annexation, in 1912—is named after the park in London dating from the 1630s. 

Jamaica Plain

This is another tossup in terms of origin. JP was either named after the Caribbean island from which some residents drew their wealth via the slave-driven rum and sugar trades; or after the Anglicization of the name of a Native American leader. 

Or! As in the case of Jamaica in Queens, New York, it comes from the name of a Native American tribe called the Jameco. 

JP became part of Boston in 1874. Interestingly, it was part of the town of Roxbury and parts of Jamaica Plain became the town of West Roxbury.