Saturday, February 11, 2012

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Downtown Crossing Development

The development firm taking control of the former Filene’s property in downtown Boston said it will build a tower as high as 600 feet, rivaling the tallest buildings in the district and creating a new magnet for shoppers, diners, and residents.
At that height, the new Filene’s tower would be as tall as the Federal Reserve Bank building or the nearby One Boston Place. It would be taller and more slender than the first building proposed for the site, a 39-story building that stalled in the early stages of construction.
Principals of the new development firm, Millennium Partners, yesterday said the new tower will cost at least $500 million and include about 1.2 million square feet of residential and commercial space, including a base of retail stores, a substantial office component, and apartments on the upper floors. “What excites us about the [Filene’s site] is the opportunity to do something truly spectacular,’’ Philip Aarons, a founding partner of New York-based Millennium, said at a news conference at Boston City Hall. “It will again become the center of downtown.’’
Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed confidence the firm will begin construction within a year, ending the work stoppage that has left a giant hole in the middle of Downtown Crossing for more than three years and that slowed a larger plan to revitalize the district.
“Millennium Partners is taking control of this project and will get it done,’’ Menino said.
Millennium is teaming up with the project’s existing owner, Vornado Realty Trust of New York, which will be a passive investor. Aarons declined to identify the amount of the firm’s investment so far, but said it will be the lead partner and present a new plan within several months.
Millennium has built large projects in major cities across the country, including the four-building Lincoln Square complex in New York, the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Towers down the street from the Filene’s site in Boston. Anthony Pangaro, who
leads the firm’s Boston operations, has deep roots in the city and previously worked for the state’s transportation department, where he helped to develop the Southwest Corridor Park in the Back Bay.
In their comments yesterday, Millennium’s executives said they intend to build an “elegant’’ tower of between 500 and 600 feet that will become a modern landmark but will also relate to surrounding businesses and nearby historic buildings such as the Old South Meeting House.
“The lifeblood of downtown is retail, and the way this building meets the street is crucial,’’ said Pangaro. “We believe these buildings do much to create the quality of the city.’’
Downtown Crossing has attracted dozens of new businesses in recent years, but it continues to suffer from empty storefronts and a shortage of popular retail brands to generate consistent crowds of shoppers.
Developer Ron Druker, who owns several properties in the area, said the Filene’s site holds the potential for a dramatic remaking of the district.
“It’s so important because it is the cynosure of Downtown Crossing,’’ he said. “If you look around, you see a lot of good retailers . . . but like any situation you need an anchor, and we lost the major anchor when Filene’s closed.’’
Aarons said Millennium still must secure tenants and financing to restart construction, but expects to move forward aggressively in the coming months. The height of the proposed building means it will probably be scrutinized for throwing shadows on nearby Boston Common and other possible effects. City officials said a citizens group will be appointed soon to begin reviewing the developer’s plans.
The new tower will be designed by Handel Architects of New York, which has drawn a number of striking skyscrapers in cities around the world. It also designed Millennium’s two other major projects in Boston - the Ritz and the Hayward Place residences now under construction a few blocks from the Filene’s site.
Casey Ross Boston Globe February 4, 2012

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