After 15 years of delays, a heartwarming celebration was held on the corner of Maitland and Beacon streets in the Fenway to mark the start of construction of Phase 1 of the Fenway Center Project.
On Tuesday, Jan. 30, elected officials from both the state and city along with community members gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Fenway project.
“I had many moments where I wasn’t sure this day will come,” said John Rosenthal, president of Meredith Management Corporation, the developers behind the project. “It’s been a 15-year journey, and a lot of people said it could never happen, but we are at the beginning of a new vision of what I believe will be a smart-growth, transit oriented development.”
The planning of the project took extensive work from the state, city, local institutions, and community members.
“The last time we did an air rights project it was in 1981,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “According to the way our calendar works, it’s time for a new one. This sort of thing doesn’t just happen because it is really complicated. It took a painstaking process to make it happen.
“This may be the first development like this, but it won’t be the last.”
The Fenway Center will be constructed in two phases. The $240 million Phase 1 will include two residential buildings of seven and 13 stories, respectively, containing a total of about 339,000 square feet that will be built on existing surface parking lots.
Phase 1 will build 312 apartments with 37,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and 200 underground parking spaces.
Phase 1 will also include a 12,000 square-foot air rights deck that will sit on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike. When completed it will have a landscaped pedestrian walkway that connects to the Yawkey Commuter Rail Station.
Construction of Phase 1 is now underway with completion expected in early 2020.
“It took a while and it was challenge to make it happen,” said Stephanie Pollack, secretary and CEO of Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). “It works better when you work together and don’t go off in your own silos – it is a partnership.”
Pollack said this idea stemmed from Gov. Baker’s idea to ‘Open for Business’ unused state land. This project takes something that was just a surface parking lot and makes it into a creative development.
The $380 million Phase 2 of the Fenway Center will include a 27-story, 375,000 square-foot, mixed-use office and residential tower and a seven-story, 111,000 square-foot, residential building that will be built on top of the air rights deck.
The second phase will also include the construction of a seven-story, 274,000-square foot parking garage on the air rights deck.
“This project took perseverance,” said Brian Golden, director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). “Like everything else that is difficult in life, it takes talent, resources, a little bit of luck, but most of all it’s about perseverance.”
Over the last several years, the BPDA and the Walsh administration has been coordinating with MassDOT and the Baker administration and the developers to make this project come to fruition.
“Boston is in a building boom right now,” said Golden. “Right now we are spending $9 billion in the Boston region, including the entire City and $6 million is being spent right here in the Fenway.”
Golden said that the City of Boston is committed to building 53,000 units of housing by 2030 and the Fenway Center project will add 500 plus more units to the growing city.
In addition to the five buildings planned for construction, the development includes the recently completed Yawkey Station, an MBTA-full service, commuter rail station and the state-constructed, new public roadway and pedestrian access located adjacent to the Turnpike.
The Fenway Civic Association (FCA) advocated for benefits from the Fenway Center to be allocated towards the Fenway Community Center located at 1282 Boylston St. In 2017, FCA successfully requested $650,000 in benefits for the community center, assuring its long-term operations for the next several years.
Previous plans had a community center located within the Fenway Center, but as years went by and the project continued to be stalled, the FCA worked to secure the current location for the Fenway Community Center, which opened two years ago.
“I am very pleased to be here today on behalf of the community,” said Pam Beale, who headed the Citizen Advisory Committee that voted unanimously for this project. “As you all know, this development has been many years and gone through several generations. But through it all, the community never doubted that John [Rosenthal] would preserver with their team and partners, and were willing to work through all these complexities to come up with a plan and wonderful project that the community can hold out and embrace. So congratulations!”