Proposal Presented for Student-Housing At Sheraton Tower

 A proposal to transform one of the two towers comprising the Sheraton Boston Hotel in the Back Bay from temporary into permanent student housing for Northeastern University was the topic at hand during a virtual meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency on Thursday, Sept. 21.

A rendering of the entrance to the South Tower of the Sheraton Boston Hotel in the Back Bay, which is poised to become permanent student housing for Northeastern University.

​Hawkins Way Capital, a Beverly Hill, Calif.-based private equity firm, together with Värde Partners, an international investment firm, reportedly purchased the hotel at 39 Dalton St. for $233 million from Host Hotels & Resorts in February of 2022. The hotel comprises two towers, with the North Tower continuing to operate as a hotel. The South Tower has served as temporary dorm space for Northeastern undergraduates since the summer/fall of 2020, when the city and BPDA approved this usage amid the pandemic, and because of the pressing need for more college dorm rooms throughout Boston at that time.

​Attorney Dennis Quilty said the applicant intends to eventually amend the site’s Planned Development Area (PDA), which is defined by the BPDA as “an overlay zoning district that establishes special zoning controls for large or complex projects,” to allow for permanent use of the South Tower as Northeastern student housing. As proposed, approximately 428 sleeping rooms within the existing approximately 250,000-square foot South Tower would be used to permanently house approximately 856 undergraduate students.

The project also includes plans to repurpose the existing hotel’s ground-floor retail area (an approximately 6,000-square foot hair/nail salon accessible to both hotel guests and non-guests) and third-floor hotel area to create approximately

18,000 square feet of dedicated student amenities, including uses like a student lounge, café/dining, quiet study area, laundry room, and/or fitness center, according to the BPDA. The project also proposes creating a new main entry to the South Tower for students.

When the hotel’s current owner purchased the property, it was their intention to only use the North Tower for hotel purposes, said Quilty, so proceeds from the student housing component will help finance the renovation of the hotel.

​In anticipation of the South Tower becoming permanent student housing, the applicant has removed the alcohol license from the South Tower, which will now have only a lodging license, or hotel license, with no alcohol provisions, said Quilty.

Julie Reker, an architect for the project, said an entrance to the elevators in the South Tower at the existing hotel lobby in the North Tower will be closed off, so there is no connection between the two towers.

Meanwhile, an earlier plan to renovate the existing plaza adjacent to the South Tower, which sits atop an underground parking garage, has been improved and expanded, said Reker.

An existing staircase and accessible, sloped brick walkway will remain, she said, while new trees would be planted throughout the plaza, including in one area, where existing plantings will be replaced with a “more carefully curated plan,” including taller trees and “more appropriate, drought-resistant plantings.”

New planters and planting areas, including one with a seating wall near the entrance, have also been added to the plaza, and in some places, new plantings will fill existing planting beds that now contain gravel. Several new visitor bike racks, along with umbrellas, will also be installed on the plaza, said Reker.

Additionally, an enclosed and secured area for student bike storage, with 102 dedicated bike spaces, will be built next to the South Tower, said Reker, which is a new addition to the project.

Dan Solworth, vice chancellor of wellness and student success for Northeastern, said all mail and packages sent to the occupants of the South Tower would be routed via Northeastern’s centralized mail-sorting facility and delivered in bulk by truck to the South Tower’s loading dock to greatly reduce the number of individual deliveries to the building.

Two or three parking spaces at the curb, which now accommodate a taxi stand, will be redesignated as space for Lyft and DoorDash drop-offs, said Howard Moshier, director of land engineering for the civil engineering firm, VHB.

Lee Steele, a member of the city’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the project, applauded the addition of new greenery to the plaza design as “a great improvement” but questioned the “exclusive use of red brick on the plaza floor.” He asked for more variety in the color of these materials, especially since the granite walls of the plaza that abut the sidewalk are also red.

“Something a little more interesting than straight-up red brick, I think, would be an aesthetic improvement,” said Steele.

Reker responded that the number of new planters being added to the plaza would greatly reduce the number of visible red pavers but added she would bring Steele’s request back to the design team for further consideration.

Asked when proposed exterior changes to the South Tower would commence, Attorney Quilty said, “There are kids already in these buildings. As soon as we get the green light from the BPDA and the city, we’ll be underway.”

The public comment period on the requested PDA change for the project ends Monday, Oct. 2. For more information on the project, or to submit a public comment on it, visit Public comments can also be submitted until the aforementioned date via email to Quinn Valcich, BPDA project manager, at [email protected].

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