City Suggests Shrinking Park Plaza Urban Renewal Area

With the six-year extension of Urban Renewal implemented in 2016 about to reach its midway point, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) is considering the future of the Park Plaza Urban Renewal plan – and BPDA officials told residents they would prefer to shrink down the area to only one building.

In August of 2016, the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Boston City Council approved a request from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the BPDA’s erstwhile predecessor) to extend Urban Renewal by six years, Christopher Breen, the BPDA’s special project manager, told those in attendance at the Park Plaza Urban Renewal community meeting Monday at the Revere Hotel.

(Urban Renewal was created under the American Housing Act of 1949 to help stabilize rapidly declining U.S. cities in the aftermath of World War II, but it had the unintended consequence of displacing poor and marginalized residents.)

The City will evaluate all 16 Urban Renewal plans, 14 of which, including the one for Park Plaza, are up for renewal. Another seven Urban Renewal plans have already expired.

The public process to review each plan will be rolled out in three phases, with the first including Park Plaza; BPDA representatives will report their findings on the Urban Renewal plans included in Phase One in September.

Unlike other Urban Renewal plans, Park Plaza’s is unique in that it is only a state plan and changes to height and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) are considered “major modifications” that require approval from the DHCD and the City Council, Breen said.

Goals for the Park Plaza Urban Renewal plan included “facilitat[ing] the creation of a high density, mixed use community in the heart of the city; facilitat[ing] redevelopment of existing garages, obsolete public buildings and private development opportunities; preserv[ing] and enhance historic resources of the area; creat[ing] improved connections from Chinatown through Back Bay; support[ing] expansion of the area’s institutional and mixed uses; and increas[ing] tax revenue by redeveloping underutilized parcels.”

The Park Plaza Urban Renewal area includes five parcels bound by Land Development Agreements (LDAs), which puts additional restrictions on public and private properties that the city took ownership of via “site assembly”; these are Parcel One, the Hadassah/Charles sub-parcel with the Four Seasons Hotel; Parcel 2, Park Square and the One Charles Street condominiums; 144-156 Boylston St. with the Emerson College dormitory; Parcel 4, the 45 Stuart St. residences; and the Kensington, Breen said.

The Park Plaza Urban Renewal Area also includes one BPDA-owned property: the China Trade Building (Parcel C-T-1).

As for the future of the Park Plaza Urban Renewal plan, Breen said there are now three option: to ask for another extension; eliminate it; or “shrink” the area’s boundaries to include only the China Trade Building.

And given the building’s current 85 percent occupancy rate and the constant stream of revenue it brings to the city, Breen said he would recommend reducing the boundary of the Park Plaza Urban renewal area to include only that building.

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