“The loss of the facilities of public accommodation that go with a hotel are a little bit concerning to us. We need to ensure they are not privatizing the waterfront.”
— BRA spokesperson regarding Russia Wharf, a project that took years and dozens of public meetings to approve, but will have one public meeting for review of changes to land use and public accomodation altered in response to fluctuating market conditions.
SAND Comment / 7/8/05
In 2002, Equity Office proposed a hotel-office-condo project on Russia Wharf (click here to read proposal). The Russia Wharf project cycled through years of public and private meetings, including dozens of BRA-hosted meetings of a Russia Wharf Impact Advisory Comittee (IAG) comprised of individuals, waterfront consultants and planners, many of whom volunteered to work with Equity Office to help shape areas of public accomodation. The project was approved in 2004 with scheduled completion in 2007.
This month, one year after approvals were granted and five years after the project was first proposed, Equity Office announced that they intend to develop a condo instead of a hotel, citing a change in market conditions. The areas of public accomodation normally provided along with a hotel have been eliminated, and the developer has produced a new plan for areas of public accomodation in lieu of those originally arrived at through years of meetings with the Russia Wharf IAG.
The BRA has signaled a willingness to approve the newly proposed land use, building architecture, and redesigned areas of public accomodation, requiring one public meeting to review the changes.
1) If the Russia Wharf developer will change the land use and fate of areas of public accomodation in response to market conditions with only one public meeting required by the BRA, what were the dozens of BRA-hosted public Waterfront planning meetings, Russia Wharf IAG meetings, the stated planning rationale for approving a Waterfront hotel (e.g. long-term planning needs of the convention center), and most importantly — years of planning and approvals for?
2) Why isn’t the BRA using an urban plan and zoning tools to provide developers, property owners and stakeholders with a stable framework in terms of what gets built — especially on one of the most promising waterfronts worldwide?
3) Is the BRA’s willingness to have an approved condominium project be interchangeable with a hotel tower or an office building as market conditions change — with only one public meeting required, a proper precedent for other waterfront developers?
To read a related article about Russia Wharf, click here.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
Big hotel to be cut from plan for wharf
By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff
The mixed-use development planned for Russia Wharf is going to have a little less in the mix.
Equity Office Properties, a Chicago real estate investment trust that owns three historic Russia Wharf buildings along Congress Street, is jettisoning a 300-room hotel from its plan for a $300 million residential, office, and retail complex.
''The large hotel is out, but we're not shutting the door on a niche hotel, or more residential, or both," Maryann Gilligan Suydam, an Equity Office's senior vice president, said yesterday.
Suydam said Equity Office will bring the city a proposal to change its already approved plans in the next 10 days or so. That could include as many as 150 more condominiums, in addition to the 50 previously proposed.
But there will be no change in the commitment to create space accessible to the public, she said. A restaurant along the Harborwalk, on the Fort Point Channel side, and an outdoor plaza on the water remain in the plan, Suydam said, and even a proposed jazz club may survive.
In addition, Equity Office is proposing a ''new town square" in an atrium for public gatherings, and a multimedia show focused on the city, along the lines of the ''Where's Boston?" presentation that was popular with visitors and residents in the 1970s and '80s.
A Boston Redevelopment Authority spokeswoman said the changes would have to be approved and would require at least one public meeting, but are not considered major.
''We always encourage housing. We're happy about that," said Susan Elsbree of the BRA. ''The loss of the facilities of public accommodation that go with a hotel are a little bit concerning to us. We need to ensure they are not privatizing the waterfront."
Suydam said Equity Office, which owns more office space in Boston than anyone else, decided not to build a large hotel because of the site's constraints and changing market conditions. The company said this week that it has delayed construction because of a lawsuit filed by a neighboring developer who is challenging the zoning variances won for Russia Wharf last year.
The developer, Brian Fallon, managing director of the company that is building the InterContinental Boston hotel and Residences at the InterContinental, denied this week that his legal action has slowed Equity Office's progress.
''We are not delaying anything," Fallon said in a written statement. ''Equity Office is unclear on what they want to attempt to develop and are also unclear on when."
Though the Boston hotel market has slowly improved in the last couple of years, residential appears to be hotter than ever. And Equity Office, which specializes in owning and managing commercial space, still plans to build a 31-floor office tower on Russia Wharf.
Suydam said Equity Office will probably find a partner specializing in residential development to do the condos, but the development is not for sale.
''We are not flipping the project," she said.
Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.
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