New Developers Propose Hotel Use, Façade Renovation for Alexandra

July 14, 2018
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If all goes according to preliminary plans, a new team of developers could put the ‘hotel’ back in the Hotel Alexandra.

JB Ventures and TLC Development, along with their architects from CBT, presented a new plan for the long-derelict Hotel Alexandra that includes developing a 150-room hotel on both parcels while saving the façade and adding a new, nine-story building around and above it.

Jas Bhogal of JB Ventures and Tom Calus of TCR presented their brand new hotel plan to the South End Landmarks Commission (SELC) on Monday morning at City Hall – revealing a very preliminary plan that was well-received by commissioners and those from the neighborhood in attendance. The plan for the Alexandra takes a different approach than developer Eric Hoagland, who has a purchase and sales agreement on the property and is thinking of a residential campus that includes the Alexandra.

Bhogal told SELC that they looked at residential – as that’s primarily what they develop – but it didn’t make sense given the compromised structure that is behind the façade. There is nothing historic left inside the building, SELC said.

“We thought about the condo market first, but couldn’t make the numbers work,” he said. “We also tried a few ideas for apartment buildings. We believe the best use for the building is a hotel. A hotel has to have a certain number of rooms to be successful. That magic number is 150…The thing we need to know is if this will fly in the community and we can get a certain number of rooms in there so we can have a viable project. If it isn’t viable, we won’t pursue it and we’ll let someone else pursue it.”

The idea would be to restore and refurbish the remarkable façade on the Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue sides. On the vacant lot next door and filling in behind the façade would be a nine-story, new construction piece that would be set back. One example cited by CBT of successfully doing this is in Dudley Square at the old Blue Store – where that remarkable façade was restored and a brand new building built behind and above it.

There would be no parking at the hotel, but there would be a public roof deck. The first floor would feature a café/restaurant within the old façade area, while the hotel entrance would be on the side. Loading zones would be behind the building.

The rooms would be small, with 19 rooms per floor from floors two through five. On floors six through nine, there would be 18 rooms each. The building would be going from 65 feet, 8-inches to 107 feet, 2-inches.

Vickie Alani of CBT said they hope to make it a grand building that would be the pride of the South End and a gateway to the neighborhood.

“We want to make it something the South End is proud of – a neighborhood amenity,” she said. “I think it was an attractive gateway at one time, and I think it can be again.”

The proposal was met with enthusiasm from at least two commissioners, and from Chester Square Neighbors President Carol Blair.

“I’m delighted it is a hotel and not condos or apartments,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt. “In that area, there is nothing except the Hampton Inn and the Roundhouse. The people walking by the street look shell-shocked and wonder where they are. The hotel will provide activity there. The neighborhood really needs this.”

Commissioner Peter Sanborn said he could picture a hotel there.

“I’m not a developer, but I’ve often thought that building was more suited for a hotel and not residential space,” he said. “I think the height of the building may be a trend across the city as a whole…Specifically, I’m not all that concerned about the height. I would be more concerned that it doesn’t stick out from the existing context and it’s not so odd compared to the things around it.”

Said Blair, “I see it going well if what I’m seeing today is what I get…The way you incorporate modern height with historic preservation will signify to the neighborhood, ‘This is how it’s done.’ The work you do here is going to be very important.”

One clear concern is the height of the addition above the building, as well as the details of the addition.

Alani said they are looking at metal and glass at the moment. Some wanted the addition to be unique, but Commissioners also said there is something to be said for making the addition very plain so as not to take away from the unique historic façade.

Some wondered if it could come down to eight stories, which would make it only three stories above the existing building.

Bhogal said less height and fewer rooms are possible, but it would mean a lesser brand of hotel with fewer amenities.

“It is possible, but it would not be a Class A product,” he said. “The hotel flags in that category are in the Hampton Inn line and not a fully amenity hotel.”

Bhogal said they have plans to meet with the neighbors this week, including the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association, Chester Square Neighbors, Hurley Blocks and the South End Forum.

He also said they are in the process of taking the project to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) very soon. The BPDA has taken a keen interest in the Hotel Alexandra, but a spokesperson this week said Director Brian Golden would reserve his comments for a later date.

“Give us an opportunity to detail this and I think we can make it work,” said Bhogal.

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