BLC Approves Changes at Fenway Park, Improvements at Arlington Street Church

Both the Arlington Street Church and Fenway Park came before the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) on May 28 with proposals to make changes to the properties.

Fenway Park

The BLC heard a somewhat controversial proposal for Fenway Park. As part of the Fenway Park Improvements project that includes the proposed Fenway Theater, the Red Sox proposed to remove six rows of bleacher seats to create a flat deck for bleachers fans to access a new concessions and restrooms area. The BLC voted to approve the proposal with the proviso that they will have continued review for this piece of the improvement project.

According to architect Chuck Izzo, the removal of these rows will cause the park to lose about 350 seats. “We’ve been looking at doing something with this portion of the bleachers for 10-15 years,” Izzo said. He said that while it’s “always been on the agenda,” there has been a reluctance to do anything until we had a project for the area, which is now the Fenway Theater and the function space that will sit on the triangle of land adjacent to the ballpark. The proposed theater would not be seen at all from inside the park, so it will not be blocking any skyline views, Izzo said.

“This has always been part of the plan, if you will,” Izzo said. These changes to the bleacher area will better serve the fans in these seats, as there is currently no close concession/restroom area for these fans. Izzo said that a younger fan base is looking for these types of spaces as well.

Dan Wilson from the group Save Fenway Park said that the Red Sox have saved Fenway Park “and done a better job than I could have imagined,” but “this is a change which is considerable,” he said. He said these changes would not just affect a small number of fans, but since they would be visible from the entire park, he had some concerns.

Alison Frazee, Assistant Director at the Boston Preservation Alliance, said that the Boston Preservation Alliance has been engaged with this project and has met with the team a few times. “Overall, I think we are supportive with the larger project,” she said. She said that the team has “been very sensitive” to concerns, and she realizes that the use of the ballpark is changing and people are enjoying other things, as well as baseball Fenway Park. “We are still talking with them about the different aspects of this,” she said, and the remaining concern is the view of the city skyline from different parts of the park, but she does realize that the skyline itself is also changing and will continue to change over time.

Erika Darlin of Save Fenway Park said that she doesn’t “want to belittle the loss of those seats,” as she believes the bleacher area has been well served and is not as neglected of an area as it is being made out to be in this proposal.

The Red Sox project team said they believe the visual connection is important for the concession area in this project.

“There’s more than one way to look at Fenway Park and its design,” Commissioner Brad Walker said. “The joy and the beauty of Fenway is that its a quirky old park in the middle of the city,” and he said that he is in favor of changing the park to meet the changing demands of the fans. “Views in and out of the ballpark change,” he said. “I’m in favor of making adjustments, even fairly serious adjustments to the ballpark and not treating every little bit of it as precious.”

“I don’t have a problem with the change,” Commissioner David Berarducci said. “I don’t like removing those seats; those are the most affordable seats.” Berarducci said he wanted to see if there was a way to keep “at least a few more rows of bleachers” by raising the patio area higher.

“This ballpark is the most expensive ballpark to attend,” he said. Losing that experience of making baseball accessible to people who can’t afford the more expensive tickets is something he was concerned about.

“There’s nothing cast in stone about where the ticket pricing boundaries are,” Izzo said. He said that though it is not his decision, “it is certainly possible” that they cheaper prices could be moved down into other rows.

The Commission was also concerned that they would not have a chance to weigh in on the other portion of the project (the theater and other aspects that are not on the ballpark property), but Todd Satter, staff for the BLC, said that the Boston Planning and Development Agency would be reviewing this and would invite him to weigh in on that.

“We will consider ways to continue dialogue,” said David Friedman, Senior Vice President, Legal and Government Affairs for the Red Sox. Izzo said that they are going through the Article 80 process right now and still drawing plans for the project. They are looking to start construction after this season.

Arlington St. Church

The Arlington Street Church at 351 Boylston St. is undergoing several changes, including work regarding accessibility, but for this particular proposal, the team was looking to get approval for the restoration of the Boylston Street stairs and the installation of landscape plantings, a footpath, and curbstone. Adam Wylie of Mayhew PMC said they are hoping to remove the three magnolia trees on Boylston Street, as they are currently shading the historic windows of the church and obscuring the elevation. They are also “not historic or characteristic,” he added. They also hope to clean up and plant interim plantings on Boylston Street, as they are hesitant to create any permanent landscaping when scaffolding will be going up to make improvements to the building.

Wylie also said they are looking at installing irrigation lines on Arlington St. as well as plantings and planter boxes. Other clean-up projects include stabilizing the stair foundations, moving stones to the stair/walk area during stone inventory, and removing a plywood fence along with other debris.

The projects landscape architect said that the interim plantings will include removing the planter boxes but leafing the turf and perennials in place, as well as adding self-seeding annuals and topsoil as needed. These will be hand-irrigated only. They would like to replace the planter boxes with AZEK PVC boxes.

The plantings along Arlington Street would be “soft planting that’s continuous around this edge,” the landscape architect said. They were concerned about creating a place where people could hide, so most of the plants have a low profile, focusing on perennials and grasses. “We do want to use color,” he said.

BLC Commissioner Brad Walker said that he felt like this landscape was very modern “in terms of geometry and plant selection” and wanted to know how it related to the historic context of the building, since the church is from the 1840s.

The landscape architect said part of the design was “connecting the historic church to the modern city around it.”

Commissioner David Berarducci said that he did not have “a lot of opposition to the design,” though he feels that “these types of gardens look lousy unless they are well tended to.”

The design team said that there will be volunteers who will maintain the plantings.

The BLC approved the design with the proviso that a formal report be given to the commission in two years about how the design has worked, as well as they must find different planters that have more of a formal look to them.

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