Big Changes are Planned for Kenmore Square Block

June 1, 2018
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Kenmore Square is on track for keeping up with the building boom in Boston. Known for being a transportation hub, the traffic-jammed square may soon become a destination in its self, with new hotels, offices, and restaurants planned for this corner of the city.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on Thursday, May 24, to present the initial plans of redeveloping a block in Kenmore Square to local residents and business owners, that aims to reinvigorate the underutilized and partially vacant buildings along Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

The developers Related Beal proposes to redevelop about 47,000 square-foot site in the heart of Kenmore Square, into a mix of commercial uses, including offices, retail and restaurants.

“Today’s model shows that we are not only going to enliven what is here but, bring more people out to both sides of the street,” said Kimberly Sherman Stamler, president of Related Beal.

The project site includes seven buildings, beginning at the corner of Deerfield Street with frontage wrapping along the northern side of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street to the east.

The project consists of two distinct parcels or components: the “Commonwealth Building” at 533-541 Commonwealth Ave., and the “Beacon Building” at 650-660 Beacon St.

Six of the seven existing buildings are proposed to be demolished, while the seventh building, 660 Beacon St., which is home to the Citgo sign, will be renovated and joined to new construction – that will morph the existing three buildings there into one – encompassing about 142,000 square feet of adaptive re-use space.

Related Beal will continue to work with the Boston Landmarks Commission regarding the sign, which is currently being reviewed for landmark status.

Directly adjacent to the west is the proposed construction of a new 140,000 square-foot, eight-story building at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue. The project includes new and renovated ground-floor retail space with office space on the upper floors. The glass facade will peel back to allow views from Commonwealth Avenue of the Citgo sign to continue.

The pedestrian realm along Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street will be enhanced with improved sidewalks, street trees, and benches. A new parking garage will be located underground beneath the proposed Commonwealth Building.

Parking access and landing will take place where the current alleyway exists along Commonwealth Avenue, between the two project sites.

The driveway off of Beacon Street is the only way into the back alleyway and parking. The developers are exploring options of creating another access point along Deerfield street to take the congestion off of Beacon Street.

There will be re-stripping along Beacon Street to allow for a buffered bike lane, which will remove the metered parking spots along the thoroughfare. On Deerfield Street the angled parking will be replaced with parallel parking.

Although this project doesn’t include 11-19 Deerfield St. (where the current Kenmore Square Post Office is), the development team plans on renovating the building into office space while adhering to the landmark guidelines for the historic building.

Even though the post office building is protected by the Bay State Road/ Back Bay West Area Architectural Commission, the West Gate building on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue, and Deerfield Street is not.

After it has been sitting as an abandoned apartment building for years, the developers determined that it would be infeasible to renovate it. The demolition of the building will be under the Boston Landmarks Commission purview.

“I love that building, even though it’s vacant and sad,” said one Kenmore Square resident. “It would be sad to watch that go. I personally, don’t like the glass.”

But Christopher D. Strang, an attorney who used to work on the block, said, “The buildings that are coming down need to come down. There is no way they can be fixed.”

Strang, who used to work at 6 Beacon Street before moving offices elsewhere, said the elevators rattled and the HVAC equipment was loud.

“I can attest after listening to that sound for years – it was miserable there,” said Strang.

Related Beal does not have any office tenants in mind yet.

The famous Cornwall’s British-style pub will remain, with plans to return to the location after the construction is completed.

“I’m very excited we get to stay,” said Pam Beale, owner of Cornwall’s. “We might have to have a moving out and moving in party, but the developers have been very helpful throughout the entire process. The end result is going to be amazing.”

Not to far away, in a different corner of Kenmore Square, two new hotels are being proposed at 560-574 Commonwealth Ave. and 655-665 Beacon St. The same teams working on the Related Beal project at the city level are also working with the hotels, to make sure scheduling and the transportation plans run smoothly between the two projects.

The Related Beal redevelopment is expected to be a two-year process between both the Beacon Street and Commonwealth Ave buildings.

The comment period ends on June 11. Comments can be sent to the BPDA project manager at tim.Czerwienski@boston.gov.

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