Midtown Hotel Redevelopment Project Proposes New Underground Parking Entrance

The entrance for underground parking for the proposed redevelopment of the former Midtown Hotel would be moved from Public Alley 404 to a new service drive, making room for a new, small   public park where Cumberland Street and the alley meet, according to members of the development team on hand for a May 13 virtual meeting sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.

Newtown-based National Development intends to enter into a 99-year lease with the First Church of Christ, Scientist, to rent the former hotel at 220 Huntington Ave., which dates back to the 1960s and currently serves as off-campus dormitory provisions for Northeastern University, and to build there an as-of-right, mixed-use project comprising 325 rental units, 48 of which would be affordable; 17,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space; and 153 below-grade parking spots.

Ted Tye, one of National Development’s founding partners, said the entrance for the underground parking was first planned for Cumberland Street before the Boston Planning and Development Agency suggested it would be “more appropriately” sited in Public Alley 404, which runs directly behind the Midtown and down the entire length of Huntington Avenue.

National Development had then proposed moving the entrance to the alley directly across from the schoolhouse, Tye added, but after some members the Impact Advisory Group, as well as some members of the community, expressed their concerns with that plan, the developer proposed relocating it to a new service drive located between the new building and 236 Huntington Ave. This configuration, said Tye, would substantially reduce the number of vehicles traveling down the alley to access the garage and provide better access to it for both the new building, as well as the building at 236 Huntington Ave.

This configuration would also open up space for a small public park at Cumberland Street and the alley that, according to Tye, would satisfy the project’s open air and light provisions with the city for the redevelopment project.

While the development team is still “in the early stages of working through concepts,” the proposed park said Tye, would “mix new and old [styles] while being respectful of both,” and could potentially include  “wrought-iron gates, some stonework, and some other interesting features.”

The park would also be “similar in spirit” to other nearby parks, added Tye, and it would be maintained by the staff of the new building.

Alternatives to Demolition of 1 Cumberland St.

The purpose of last week’s meeting was to look at demolition alternatives for the four-story, seven-unit residential building at 1 Cumberland St., which is part of the redevelopment site, per the city city’s Article 80 demolition process.

The first alternative, according to David Nagahiro of CBT Architects, would be to save the building itself, which would result in the loss of 10 parking spaces in the garage; the loss of 1,137 square feet of retail space; and the loss of eight residential units in the new development, among other expected impacts. Public Alley 404 would also need to be one-way as part of this configuration, he added.

The second alternative, said Nagahiro, would be to save the façade by removing the north portion of the party wall and “tying the two buildings together” – an approach that would result in the loss of 20 parking spaces in the garage; the loss of 551 square feet of retail; and the loss of eight residential units in the new development, among other possible impacts. Public 404 would need to be one-way under this scenario as well, he said.

A third alternative, which Nagahiro described as “a bit more radical,” would entail underpinning the building and moving it to another nearby location, while the fourth and fifth alternatives were described as “revised alternatives to Demolition 1 and 2,” respectively.

The brick building with brownstone trim at 1 Cumberland St. was built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1888, acco9rding to members of the design team, and it was “deliberately” omitted from the St. Botolph Area Architectural Conservation District when the city created it in the early 1980s because it wasn’t deemed worth preserving. It’s also neither a National, nor a Massachusetts, Historical Landmark.

Since the earliest stages of the Midtown redevelopment project, the developer made its intention to demolish the building at 1 Cumberland St. “very clear,” said Tye, so the demolition alternatives presented were intended only to fulfill their obligation to the Boston Landmarks Commission.

Joan Carragher, president and board director of the St. Botolph Neighborhood Association, described the proposed Midtown redevelopment as “a project they could get behind as a group.” During the group’s outreach to neighbors, only one individual had expressed any interest in saving 1 Cumberland St., she said, and the resounding consensus was that the pros of the project far outweighed the cons of losing the building.

“We’re not really interested in saving the building and giving up some other things that will make it a more presentable project,” Carragher said on behalf of the SBNA board.

Lee Steele echoed this sentiment, pointing to the Midtown redevelopment plan as a rare “instance where demolition of historic building actually makes for better project.”

In response to one neighbor who asked whether the stained-glass transom at 1 Cumberland St. could be preserved, Tye said the develop is  “super sensitive to reusing or saving any aspects of the building that make sense…and possibly reusing them on the site if possible.”

George Huynh of city’s Office Neighborhood Services described last week’s meeting as the first in a two-step review process for the demolition of 1 Cumberland St., with the second being the next Boston Landmarks Commission hearing scheduled to take place virtually on June 8.

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