Plans Revealed for the Proposed Fenway Theater; Community Generally Receptive

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on March 12 to reveal the proposed plans for the Fenway Theater, which will be located at 12-28 Lansdowne St.

BPDA Project Manager Tim Czerwienski said the project is currently under the review stage in the Article 80 Large Review process, and provided a little bit of background about the steps it must go through before construction can start.

Dave Friedman, Senior Vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs for the Red Sox, said that this project has a Fenway Park element (that includes improvements to a portion of the park), as well as the theater portion. He said the theater would be operated by LiveNation, not the Red Sox. “We don’t speak on behalf of LiveNation but we work closely with them,” Friedman said.

Ruth Bonsignore, the permitting and transportation consultant for the project, provided a little bit of background and context about the site. She said the site is currently the Fenway garage, as well as partly concession space and backup offices for Fenway Park. The project will demolish part of the Fenway garage, and the rest will stay and be repurposed for enchanted service and support areas. There will also be about 30,000 square feet of new fan amenity areas that will serve the Bleacher and Right Field Grandstand areas of the park.

The theater itself would be a performing arts center of approximately 86,000 square feet with a capacity of 5,400. “What we are proposing is consistent with the uses and the dimensions allowed within the site,” Bonsignore said. She said that the maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for the area is 5, and they are proposing a FAR of 2.55, and the maximum allowable height is 95 feet, but they are proposing a 67 foot structure.

The project benefits include “arts and culture that will host a wide variety of performing arts, educational, and civic events,” Bonsignore said, as well as new opportunities for performing arts programming and collaborations with places like Boston Arts Academy.

The ballpark enhancements are consistent with the Red Sox’s investment in preservation and enhancement of the ballpark, and respects and compliments architectural and historical aspects of the neighborhood, the presentation stated.

Bonsignore said they are also proposing an enhanced streetscape, providing wide, accessible sidewalks, improved lighting, street bollards, and improved bus stop with shelters. There will also be facility and street level way-finding advice that is consistent with the transportation department’s Complete Streets guidelines. Bonsignore said that this project will create 200 construction jobs, 80 full-time jobs, and 450 part time jobs once the theater is open.

Chuck Izzo, an architect for the project, talked more about the Fenway Park improvements, saying that the creation of the two-level addition that will sit on top of the garage will house bathrooms on one level, and a function area on the top level. This area “opens the ballpark up for a whole new group of people and uses,” Izzo said. The media trucks that are currently parked on the site will be relocated to 189 Ipswich St., he added.

He said that the theater is a four-story structure with three seating tiers, and there will be lobbies that serve every seating level in an effort to minimize the number of people waiting outside the venue.

Bonsignore talked about the efforts the team is making towards climate resiliency. She said they are committed to the city’s Green Building and Climate Change Resiliency policies, and future increases in precipitation are being taken into account for the stormwater management infrastructure.

She also said that a full transportation impact assessment was included in the Expanded Project Notification Form, which can be found on the BPDA website. She said that transportation counts were completed for conditions with and without a game at Fenway Park, and transportation surveys were done in the Fall of 2018 to get a feel for the travel characteristics for patrons going to Fenway Park and the House of Blues.

Bonsignore said the project is being designed for people, not vehicles, and 105 parking spaces are going to be removed from the garage. “Transit use or remote parking will be promoted for patrons,” she said, and streetscape and pedestrian/bicycle access improvements are being proposed. She added that the proponent is working with the city to develop a management plan for ride sharing services.

She said there will be no noise out onto the street from the venue, which is an indoor venue. “We are anticipating that there will be an active construction management process to manage the construction impacts,” Bonsignore said.

The sidewalk will be widened along Ipswich Street to provide better access for pedestrians, and there is also a proposal to shift the current bus stop down and add a pickup/dropoff area for accessibility purposes. She said that the scale of the building is “not expected to cast shadow or glare on other historic properties,” and the materials used for the building will be in line with other buildings in the neighborhood.

After the presentation, the public was given time to ask questions or provide comments. Several people brought up the fact that they are concerned about emergency vehicles being able to get through the area.

“It is a congested area,” responded BPD D-4 Captain Steven Sweeney. He said that during game days and concerts, he currently tries to have the on-duty dedicated traffic car circle the park giving tickets, using air horns, sirens, etc. to move cars along. He said he has not heard about any tragedies or delayed responses for emergency vehicles.

Dan Wilson of Save Fenway Park said he was concerned about the removal of the six rows of bleachers, as he thinks it will be “very noticeable” and “will change that experience.” He said he would also like to see some views from inside the ballpark, as those were not presented at the meeting.

Izzo said that it is “not a significant change to the profile of the bleachers,” and the purpose of doing it is to be able to provide amenities to those fans. He said there are interior views that can be made available, but there are some model views in the PNF document that can be viewed on the BPDA website.

Teri Malo of the Fenway Studios said she has a “mixed mind” on the project. She said that the traffic issue is a big deal, as her husband was stuck in an ambulance to Beth Israel in the current traffic conditions, so she would like to see “some kind of emergency access that’s maintained straight through this area.”

She also said that she feels the project should be expanded so it “encompasses more of the arts.” She said she’f like to see a two-dimensional artistic gallery space for things like paintings and prints, and with all of the indoor waiting space that has been proposed, she feels that it is the “ideal condition for viewing artwork.” She suggested a collaboration with Fenway Studios, as well as local arts schools to provide “even more of an arts space.”

“The theater is a real asset to the arts community in the Fenway,” said Boston Arts Academy (BAA) Headmaster Anne Clark. She said the theater will provide BAA students with professional opportunities in sound engineering, lighting design, etc.

Some people were concerned with the proposed roof terrace and the noise level it may create, as well as the noise from the HVAC units.

Izzo said that the rooftop terrace is just another place for people to gather prior to concerts instead of on the street. He said it is also intended as a place to go during intermission, but it will not be a public restaurant, nor will it be open at other times. It may be open for a portion of the time post-concert, but that is up to LiveNation to decide. He said there will be screens and acoustical controls for the HVAC units as well.

Pam Beale, owner of Cornwall’s in Kenmore Square, said that she thinks the proposal is “great” and that the Red Sox have come up with a project that “completes the vision” that they had back when the area was re-zoned for entertainment.

The owner of Fenway Johnnie’s said the theater is a “welcome addition to the neighborhood,” and appreciates the widening of the sidewalks. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

There were lots of comments about traffic and congestion in the surrounding area as well. Czerwienski said they are “very interested” in how people are going to get to and from this venue via public transit, bikes, on foot, etc.

The public comment period ends on March 25. Comments can be submitted on the project page on the BPDA website, or sent to Tim Czerwienski at [email protected]

The IAG will continue to work on mitigation, he said, and he appreciated the “really great ideas about traffic and arts community that we got tonight,” Czerwienski said. “Our review of these comments and questions help to inform how we handle the next phase of the review.”

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