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© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company

Developer picked for waterfront retail center
$400m project to include shopping, condos, hotel

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 2/11/2004

A key piece of the slowly developing South Boston Waterfront -- shopping -- began to take shape yesterday as the Massachusetts Port Authority selected a developer to build a retail center almost twice the size of Copley Place directly across the street from the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Massport chose Urban Retail Properties Co. of Chicago -- which developed Copley Place -- and the local Drew Co., one of two teams with mixed-use plans vying for the site. It is 12 acres of Massport's development land between Congress and Summer streets, known as the Core Block, amid a vast tract of public and private acreage where development has stalled for decades.

The plan includes a 600,000-square-foot shopping center, a supermarket, residential condominiums, and a hotel. The retail space would include a department store, possibly Seattle's Nordstrom, plus moderate- to higher-priced shops like Hugo Boss, for men's and women's apparel, home furnishings stores, and restaurants.

"We're not going after luxury-brand tenancies, the Gucci's of the world," said Ross B. Glickman, chief executive of Urban Retail Properties. "Who is in Copley Place is not our marketplace."

"It's very encouraging you had two teams willing to do development in South Boston, and they made a great choice," said Vivien Li, the executive director of the Boston Harbor Association. But she was cautious about being too optimistic on the timing.

"The housing will definitely go; hotels have a chance," Li said. "Retail is going to continue to be a struggle. Even on established streets like Newbury Street, you're seeing relatively high vacancy rates. To be a new focus for retail in the next decade is going to be challenging."

However, real estate executives involved in marketing privately held land on the waterfront say investors and developers specializing in retail recently have expressed strong interest.

John E. Drew, president of Drew Co., which codeveloped the nearby World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel, and Massport development officials said yesterday that construction on the area's first major center of commercial activity could begin in 2005.

Drew's partner, Urban Retail Properties, is the third-largest hired manager of retail properties in the country. The two already comanage the huge Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

The Drew and Urban Retail proposal for 1.2 million square feet of development, which is tentatively permitted by state environmental officials, was chosen over a plan for about 1.9 million square feet, submitted by another experienced team, Boston Properties Inc., New England Development, and the Fallon Co.

Yesterday's recommendation by Massport development officials must be approved by the authority's board, which is expected to happen at tomorrow's meeting. Port officials then will negotiate a detailed development agreement and a 95-year ground lease with the Core Development Group LLC, the company formed by Drew and Urban Retail.

Waterside Place, the name the developers are using for their $400 million project, would be built on 8.3 acres of land and air rights over Interstate 90 controlled by Massport. On two adjacent pieces of land, totaling about four acres, the developers plan a 76,380-square-foot supermarket and a Boston visitors center that would be coordinated with activities at the new convention center.

The convention center, which opens early this summer, is connected to the development plot designated for a hotel by a pedestrian tunnel running under Summer Street.

The proposal includes:

A 600,000-square-foot shopping center, anchored by a well-known store like Nordstrom but populated also by names and brands that are not familiar elsewhere in the downtown area.

A two-level parking garage on top of the retail space, with a large public park built above. Parking there and linked to other buildings the project would total 1,750 spaces.

A 276-unit, 20-floor residential condominium complex on Congress Street.

A 457-room, 21-floor, midpriced hotel on Summer Street, across from the convention center property and headquarters hotel.

A grocery store with parking, designed to serve the broader South Boston residential community, along Summer Street east of D Street. A hockey rink was initially planned for that block but was scrapped.

A curved pedestrian walkway through the retail space, extending from Summer Street to Congress Street near the Seaport Hotel.

"It becomes a real link from the convention center to the waterfront, which is one of the major goals we had," said Richard Henderson, director of planning and development for Massport.

A Boston visitors' center of about 20,000 square feet, planned for the west side of the project, facing the large tunnel vent structure, would serve people attending conventions or arriving by cruise ship, said Michael A. Leone, Massport's port director.

Drew and Urban Retail proposed to build their project in a single phase, with possible expansion of the hotel, residential, and office space in subsequent years. They have hired Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects Inc. of Boston.

But City of Boston approvals, and additional state permits, will be required, Henderson said. "It's going to take some time."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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