The public got a look at the latest plans for Fenway Corners – a proposed, approximately 2 million square-foot project that would transform the blocks around the ballpark into several new buildings containing office/research, retail, and residential space – at another city-sponsored virtual meeting on March 30.
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 redevelopment effort in the Seaport – intend to redevelop 13 parcels located south of the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park on four major blocks along Jersey Street, Brookline Avenue, Van Ness Street, and Lansdowne Street, respectively, which collectively total around 5.32 acres.
Changes to the project from what was first proposed by the developer last June include creating the Fenway Family Center, which would provide daycare for 100-plus children; 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-plus 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, according to Yanni Tsipis, senior vice president of WS Development.
(Tsipis had previously announced these changes, which are outlined in the Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) the developer filed with the city in February, at another virtual meeting on the project sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency on March 14.)
In response to concerns previously raised by neighbors about the developer’s plan to close Jersey Street to vehicular traffic during the day to make it a pedestrian-only street, Rebecca Lee, real estate attorney with the Boston firm Mintz Levin, said Jersey Street would become like the section of Washington Street between Temple Place and Milk Street in Downtown Crossing, where trucks are allowed to make deliveries to retail busines early in the day before it becomes a public way only accessible to pedestrians.
As part of this plan, the city would remain the steward of Jersey Street while authorizing the developer to make street improvements, such as installing outdoor tables and chairs. The developer would be responsible for the upkeep of any street improvements they make on Jersey Street, said Lee.
To make this plan for Jersey Street a reality, the developer would first need to secure a license from the city’s Public Improvement Commission as part of a process, which would entail a preliminary public meeting, as well as an additional advertised public hearing on the matter, Lee added.
“There would be no transfer of property rights to my client – it’s just a written agreement between the applicant and the city,” said Lee.
Similarly, Tsipis said the developer’s intention isn’t to privatize Jersey Street, but instead it’s “simply a reimagination of how the street works and a reprioritization of how it works.”
The project also proposes myriad bike amenities, including new short-term bike racks throughout the site; two new BlueBike stations; a Bike Hub on Richard B. Ross Way, with approximately 100-plus spaces; secure indoor parking within each building comprising approximately 940 spaces; and an opportunity for a full-time bike valet to get bikes into parking facilities for visitors to the area.
Sean Manning, transportation consultant from the Boston civil engineering firm, VHB, said that a seemingly “short and inconspicuous” connection being created from Ross Way to Brookline Avenue and Van Ness Street as part of the project would become a “real game-changer” in terms of how motorists arrive at and depart from the area.
Among the $40 million in community benefits from the project, the developer is now pledging to designate 75 percent of its $1 million commitment for public art to Boston-based and local artists, said Tsipis, giving preference to Fenway artists, as well as artists from Boston and the Boston area, rather than “bringing in artists from out of market.”
There will be many opportunities for permanent, long-term, and short-term art installations on site as well, including for weekend or multi-month installations, on a variety of different “canvasses” throughout the project site, he said.
Additionally, the developer is committed to creating opportunities for small businesses in “clusters” of 600-foot, 800-foot, and 1,000-foot retail spaces throughout the site, said Tsipis, “to help fill in voids in the urban fabric both at a macro scale and at a micro scale.”
Likewise, the developer intends to create “low-barrier” spaces to facilitate easy entry for small and minority-owned businesses, including online brands that want to expand into a brick-and-mortar operation. So rather than committing to a multi-year lease, businesses would have the opportunity to sign on a two- or four-month basis, or to stage a weekend pop-up or take part in a “makers market,” to test the waters first, said Tsipis.
At the proposed second-floor public space called the “Jersey Street Porch,” the developer also intends to identify a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) operator for the café, who would be charged below-market rent, said Tsipis.
Moreover, the developer has committed to exploring on-site opportunities for “naming of an important public place after a female figure of prominence in the Fenway neighborhood,” said Tsipis.
Mallory Rohrig, a Fenway Corners Citizens Advisory Committee and program director for Operation P.E.A.C.E., which provides educational programs for low-income families from the Fenway, said she has long lamented the lack of affordable child-care options in the Fenway and eagerly awaits the opening of the Early Education Center.
“I’m thrilled that you’re going to meet that need and keep families in the neighborhood,” said Rohrig, adding that she was also pleased to hear about the project’s opportunities for local artists, as well as for affordable and diverse food-and-beverage options.
Marie Fukuda, a longtime resident of the Fenway, said while she too looks forward to the Early Education Center opening in the neighborhood, she expressed concern that the developer has yet to specify exactly where on the site it would be located.
Fukuda also urged the developer to deliver the proposed mitigation in a holistic manner, rather than incrementally with each phase of the project, as the developer has proposed. (Tsipis responded this was merely an idea under consideration.)
Fukuda said she was pleased that the public comment period for the project had been extended by two weeks until April 15 in response to concerns raised previously by her and others that the original April 1 date would’ve come only one day after a March 31 public meeting on the project sponsored by the BPDA.
But Fukuda implored the BPDA and the project team to extend the duration for the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to give them ample time to consider newly released studies on traffic and other potential impacts.
Another longtime Fenway resident, John Bookston, expressed his deep concerns regarding potential traffic and other impacts on the neighborhood from a project he believes is seemingly at odds with what the public desires for the site.
“The Red Sox and the development company want to impose something on the Fenway, and they should start with what the public needs and what the public doesn’t want,” said Bookston.
Public comments on the proposed Fenway Corners project can be submitted through April 15 via email to Aisling Kerr of the BPDA at [email protected].