The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on December 3 regarding a recent Notice of Project Change that was filed for the Kenmore Square Redevelopment Project.
Alex Provost of Related Beal, the developer for the project, and Arpita Mitra of engineering and architecture firm Stantec were on hand to present the proposed changes as well as address comments and concerns from the public.
Provost said that the original project was approved in 2018, after nine buildings on Commonwealth Avenue were purchased from Boston University to create about 280,000 square feet of office and retail space.
Since COVID hit, many people have been successfully able to work from home, eliminating, in some cases, the need for traditional office space. Provost said that there is much uncertainty around traditional office space and when people will return to work in person, so he said that in order to keep the new buildings “marketable” and “leasable,” the proposal now includes about 127,700 square feet of space for “lab/research and development (R&D)” as opposed to traditional office space, along with about 8,560 square feet of retail space, according to the BPDA.
He said that no changes will be made to the Commonwealth Building, but the newly proposed programming will be in the Beacon Building.
He said the tenants for the lab research and development space are not yet known, but “will be usable for most R&D tenants.”
Provost said that where the construction stands right now, the topping off of the Commonwealth Building is expected in the first quarter of 2021, and 650-656 Beacon St. are “in the final phases of demolition.” He added that 660 Beacon is “fully gutted,” and demolition is expected to be completed “in the coming weeks.”
Provost said that there will be “no changes to the public realm program,” and “minimal, if any, changes to the design of the building,” but there are “some reductions” in square footage for the retail space, he said.
He said the proposed changes will have have minimal or no impact as compared with what was originally approved.
Mitra explained that some “mechanical spaces in the interior at every floor” will need to be added to support the newly proposed use, and the screen height on the roof had to be increased to enclose the new mechanical equipment.
She ensured that there would be “no impact to the Citgo sign sightline,” and Provost added that “it was a priority for us to work with what was approved.”
One resident asked if displaced tenants would be returning, or if there would be all new tenants. Provost said that Related Beal has “good relationships” with the former tenants of the buildings, and the new research and development space would be open to “all office and R&D users as we work our way through construction.” He said that they are open to bringing former tenants back as they work to “find the right tenant mix.”
Another neighbor asked if there are any restrictions to the type of research that would be allowed in the new space. Ginger Desmond of Stantec said that “if it’s biological research,” it would be limited to Bio Safety Level Two, which is what “almost every lab” is limited to. She said there would be the “same safety” for robotics or energy storage, and there would be “no hazard above the typical office building.” If research animals were part of a tenant’s work, they would have to abide by a certification process, she added.
An Impact Advisory Group meeting was held prior to this public meeting, and Aisling Kerr of the BPDA said that “all members were supportive of this proposed change of use,” and that this project will most likely come before the BPDA board for a vote on December 17.
The public comment period remains open until Friday, December 11, and the BPDA welcomes feedback, comments, questions, and concerns from the public. For more information about the project and to make a comment, visit www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/kenmore-square-redevelopment.