The underused buildings along Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street are getting closer to revitalization. The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on Oct. 22 in the Kenmore Classroom Building to update the public on the Kenmore Square Redevelopment project.
The project area consists of nine buildings bought from Boston University in October 2016, said Alex Provost of Related Beal, the developer for the project. He said that they explored a variety of different uses for the buildings, and realized that there was a good opportunity to bring in a mix of uses to the area. The buildings had previously been underutilized and not kept up as well as they should have been, Provost added.
Tim Czerwienski of the BPDA told those in attendance that the Project Notification Form (PNF) for the project was filed on May 10, and a response to a request for supplemental information was submitted by the development team on Sept. 26.
While maintaining about 60 percent of the structures acquired from BU, Provost said they will be creating two, new mixed-use buildings. The Commonwealth Building will be around 140,000 square feet, and have retail on the ground floor with office space above, and the Beacon Building will be between 145,000 and 150,000 square feet, and will also be an office building with ground floor retail. Provost said that the Commonwealth Building will have parking below grade, introducing 50-60 parking spots.
Andrew Hayes of the BPDA said that there will be a new expanded public sidewalk area with an accessible ADA path and seating area. He added that there will be opportunities on the ground floor for the retail spaces to potentially have a seating area in the future. Hayes also said that they will be removing some parallel parking spaces along Commonwealth Avenue and adding a buffered bike lane.
After receiving some comments from the BPDA and others to see what type of building works best in this area, Provost discussed some of the changes they made to the original proposal. He said that they heard from comments that the corner parcel needed to be a “bit more of a gateway,” so they moved the massing of the building forward in order to maintain the cornice line that you see next door.
They also added a masonry concept that was not in the original proposal, incorporating terra cotta into the new design. The saw-tooth design of the buildings allow the developers to create “retail pockets” on the ground floor that will allow for “different and active retail uses that will bring a lot of excitement and activity to this side of the square,” Provost said.
Hayes said that they took a look at the existing buildings on either side to inform the design elements of the new Beacon Building. He said the goal was to highlight the existing architecture while creating something new and contemporary that could bring a new element to the square. The top level will be set back, which will allow for some outdoor amenity space, Hayes said.
Provost said that the Citgo sign was another major component of the proposal, as the sign sits on a building that is right in the middle of the project. The eighth floor of the Commonwealth Building curves back to the back of the Citgo sign. “We feel that our design has taken a good approach to sustaining all of they key view corridors of the Citgo sign across the city,” Provost said.
Jim Mooney, senior property manager at Beacon Services, said that he has reached out to the City and to Related Beal regarding the parcel plan. He was concerned with the plan for the loading zone, as the plan shows that people and trucks would have to go over his steps in the alleyway at 636 Beacon St.
“We love the project; it’s a beautiful project,” he said, but told Related Beal that he has received no information from them even though “you know a lot about that alley.” Mooney was told that all conversation surrounding this must be focused through an attorney.
“I’ve always really admired the West Gate building,” resident Kathy Greenough said of the building that sits on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield Street.
She told Related Beal that because the West Gate building has such “architectural beauty and integrity,” she would like to see it incorporated into the design for the new proposal. Greenough said she does recognize the additional cost that would come with doing this, but she believes that the building “bookends Kenmore Square,” and would like to see its history preserved.
“I’m not opposed to this project at all; I’m not a NIMBY person,” she said. “I’m concerned about the design.” She added that the new design is a “dramatic improvement over the previous design,” and said she was happy to see that the curvature of the buildings is being recognized.
However, she thinks that the character of Kenmore Square is in jeopardy. “I do think there will be a number of people who would be sad to see the West Gate building depart,” she said.
The response from Related Beal was that it would be difficult to incorporate the West Gate building because the floor plates would not match up with the rest of the construction.
Pam Beale, a member of the IAG for this project and owner of British pub Cornwall’s, said “I think this project has moved in the right direction and all the issues we asked of these developers have been answered.” She thanked the developers, calling the project “great.”
Cornwall’s, which is located at 654 Beacon St., will have to be relocated during the construction, but Beale has been working with Related Beal on finding a place to go.
Other public comment included asking that if the West Gate building could not be saved, then possibly saving some of the bricks to create a commemorative sculpture in Kenmore Square would be a good idea. Someone else commented about the amount of light that would be in the new office buildings and how much of an improvement it would be, and another resident commented about the outdoor seating area and how it would make that side of the street seem like it has more life.
Provost said that these buildings are currently 25 percent occupied, and once construction is complete, 1,100 to 1,200 permanent employees will be added. Richard Giordano of the Fenway CDC said that “if we add this many more people on a routine basis, then I think something more has to be done collectively between all of these projects.” With the amount of construction happening in the Fenway/Kenmore area, Giordano wants the developers to contribute to a plan to facilitate the movement of people in and out of the neighborhoods.
Hayes said that the BPDA is engaging in conversation with the other developers for the projects in the area, and will keep the community updated.
Provost said that they would like to start construction within the first quarter of next year. There is a public hearing in front of the BPDA that has been scheduled for November, and the public comment period is still open until Nov. 12. Comments can be submitted directly to Tim Czerwienski, or on the Kenmore Square Redevelopment BPDA website.