The public got a look at the revised plans for the recently rebranded Fenway Corners – a proposed approximately 2 million square-foot project that would transform the blocks around Fenway Park into new office/research, retail, and residential space – during a city-sponsored virtual meeting on March 9. WS-Fenway-Twins Realty Venture LLC – a partnership made up of the Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox; the D’Angelo family, who own the 47 sports apparel and memorabilia company; and Newton-based WS Development, which led the transformative redevelopment effort in the Seaport, intend to redevelop 13 parcels it owns near Fenway Park, collectively totaling approximately 5.32 acres, into eight new buildings on four major along Jersey Street, Brookline Avenue, Van Ness Street, and behind the park’s left field “Green Monster” on Lansdowne Street, respectively.
The project will entail the reconstruction and improvement of approximately 3.7 acres of other public roadways, sidewalks, and other areas of public ownership, along with the extension of Richard B. Ross Way from Van Ness Street to Brookline Avenue. Its residential component includes 215 new homes in two buildings on Richard B. Ross Way, with on-site affordable housing. Besides creating 1,740 new parking spaces ( a 98-space reduction from what was previously proposed), the project includes plans for short-term bike racks throughout the project area; two new BlueBike stations; a Bike Hub on Ross Way, with approximately 100+ spaces; and secure indoor bike parking within each proposed building, including approximately 940 spaces in all.
Yanni Tsipis, senior vice president of WS Development, said changes to the project from what was first proposed last June include creating the Fenway Family Center, which would provide daycare for 100+ children, as well as reducing the project’s Gross Floor Area (GFA) by 50,000 square feet (all commercial uses); reducing the height of the Brookline Avenue building by 40+ feet; adjusting the massing of other buildings to improve corridor views and views of the skydome; and creating new public open space at corner of Jersey Street and Arthur’s Alley. At Ross Way, a two-way connection would be created through the site to enable traveling in both directions between Boylston and Beacon streets, said Tsipis. On the Jersey Block – the 2 ½ acre “mega-block” right across Jersey Street from Fenway Park – the scaling and massing of buildings and streets to make it seem more like a normal city block, said Tsipis, while Jersey Street would be transformed into a “pedestrian plaza.”
“Jersey Street become place that is for people and for bikes first all year-round,” said Tsipis, adding that it could accommodate “public-facing ways,” such as a farmers market, free community fitness events, or a holiday market. Near the Jersey Street MBTA bus stop at Jersey and Boylston streets, a three-story retail jewel box with a public amphitheater had been previously proposed, but in response to public comments, Tsipis said two stories of retail have been eliminated, so retail remains only on the ground level. The Jersey Street Porch, a new public space on the second floor, will now offer expensive views and feature a small café beneath a green roof. It would be open “24/7” or “18/7,” said Tsipis, and would be accessible from the ground level via an elevator. Closing Jersey Street to vehicular traffic during the day as part of the plan didn’t sit well with several community members in attendance, however. Marie Fukuda, a Fenway Civic Association board member and longtime resident of the neighborhood, said Jersey Street is now zoned via an “eminent domain mechanism,” which can’t be altered.
“If the proponent is going to close off the road, they have to do a separate process, not the Article 80 process,” she said. Tsipis replied that the new use of Jersey Street is “aspirational” and doesn’t change its legal status while “ultimately reconstruction and change in its composure is subject of [the city’s] Public Improvement Commission.” Another Fenway Civic Association board member and neighborhood resident, Fredericka Veikley, objected to what she called the proposed “privatization” of a public street. “The fact is that the developer wants to enhance the property, which is not in best interest of the public because vehicular access is needed there,” said Veikley. In response, Tsipis said, “It’s not about privatization, it’s about democratization of making it a more welcoming place for people.” Contrastingly, another community member, Matthew Broude, said he would be less likely to support the project without the plan to pedestrianize Jersey Street, as he believes that would fundamentally change the project’s character, so “what’s approved ends up looking very different from the aspirational goals.”
Tsipis assured Broude that if the project were approved without the plan for Jersey Street, the project team would be back before the community to update them on any changes to their plan. While project’s construction phasing is still undetermined, Tsipis said this wouldn’t affect the project team’s commitment to making public-realm improvements in a timely manner. “We don’t know which block will go first, but whichever one goes first, there’s a commitment to public realm improvements with each block,” he said. “Regardless of the order of the phasing of construction, public benefits and public realm improvements promised as part of this project won’t all be left to the end.”
Major public commitments from the development team also include a $5 million commitment to the Brookline Avenue reconstruction; a $5 million commitment to other transportation improvements; a $15 million commitment to create community spaces; four+ acres of new and improved public realm, which includes one private acre to be turned over for public use; a $1.5 million commitment for local non-profits and priorities; $ 1 million for public art; and $250,000 for transportation studies, said Tsipis.
The project will also create 2,500 Jobs for people who don’t have traditional four-year degrees and includes plans for a work-force development component, said Tsipis. The Boston Planning & Development Agency has scheduled another public meeting on the project to be held virtually on Wednesday, March 30, from 6 to 8 p.m. The public comment period for the project was scheduled to end April 1, but Aisling Kerr of the BPDA said she would look into having it extended in response to concerns raised by Fukuda and others meeting-goers that this comes only one day after the scheduled March 30 meeting. For more information on the project, and to submit public comments, visit http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/fenway-corners