By Beth Treffeisen
In October 2015, Boston University announced that they would dissolve the 33-year partnership with the Huntington Theatre Company, making it appear that the famed theatre might have to shutter its doors forever.
But the development company, QMG Huntington LLC, agreed to purchase the BU Theatre in May 2016. After initial plans included demolishing the theatre and keeping the façade to build a 36,000 square-foot residential-complex, negotiations with the City lead the developers to come up with a different plan – one that would keep the theatre intact.
At a public hearing hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), on Wednesday July 12, the developers announced their latest plans to redevelop 252 and 258 Huntington Ave. and then they would sell the Huntington Theatre and annex for $1 to the non-profit theater organization.
“We have dedicated the last three and half decades proving our dedication to this community,” said Maso. “To jump the highlights – the sale of the this theatre put all of that at risk. There was a real probability that the theatre would be demolished, and all those services would have been cut in half.”
Maso continued, “After working with the Mayor’s Office and the BPDA, we’ve come up with a solution not only to continue what we’re doing but to also expand it.”
In the adjacent buildings next to the theatre, QMG seeks to develop a 32-story, 362 foot high, residential building, with up to 426 rental units. All of the affordable units will be on site. A below-grade parking garage will provide 114 parking spaces for residents only.
The tower will include 7,500 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 14,000 square feet of cultural space on the first two floors to be used by the theatre. The new wheel-chair accessible entrance will be located at the base of the new tower.
“What we’ve done was take the FAR (floor-area-ratio) and moved it to half the site,” said John Matteson from QMG Huntington, LLC. “We took the 36,000 square feet and put it up and at the same time designed something great.”
In order to bring the theatre up to speed to today’s standard and keep it going in the 21st century, a $50 million investment will be made to renovate and repair the theatre.
Although the current theatre is proportioned to make it feel like an audience member is on stage, it is not currently handicap- accessible and does not have an intermission space.
A 1,400 square-foot area will fill in that gap, and also add extra performance and practice space. Although the rendering shows the fitness center on the second and third floor, it will be placed higher on the fourth and fifth levels.
“I’m biased because I’ve seen what the Huntington has done so far,” said John Cohen who is on the Board of Trustees for the Huntington Theatre Co., and a nearby resident. “It will make this whole area sparkle. Until now we have not seen improvements and this will solidify this part of a very important area for the arts.”
The Huntington Theatre located on the Avenue of the Arts in the Fenway, along with the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center of the Arts in the South End serve 200,000 people a year and the school program serves 2,900 students a year.
The theatre has partnerships with over 100 non-profits that serve low-income residents and 1,000 members in a program that gives out tickets to those who have limited income.
William Finard, who is on the Board of Trustees and is a long-time resident of the Fenway said he has been able to watch over the past several decades how the Huntington Theatre has positively impacted the neighborhood with event opportunities and cultural programs.
“The theatre was tenants of Boston University for about 35 years, and in that time, the amount of money spent on the Huntington Theatre was probably only $29 – it was just nothing and the theatre reflects that,” said Finard. “The building would just fall down if nobody does anything.”
He continued, “We are very fortunate to be involved at the Huntington Theatre at this time and have a point to make sure all that the Huntington does for the city are not compromised.”
The theatre will stay open during the initial construction of the tower, but will be closed while the restoration of the theatre is ongoing for about a year.
The developers filed a Project Notification Form on June 26, 2017. An Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting was held on Wednesday, July 12.
The comment period for this project ends on Aug. 17, 2017.