Update 4/30/08

Phase change on Seaport Square

The BRA has shifted its discussions on Seaport Square from the early phasing of office space and hotels (as described on 3/25/08 below) to the traffic impacts regarding Phase One development of a small 110-unit residential building on the site where the Barking Crab is today, and a new Chapel to replace the existing Our Lady of Good Voyage (which would be demolished). Construction of underground parking to accomodate 6,000 parking spaces is also moved to Phase One.

In summary, the smaller 110-unit residential building and chapel will be developed in Phase One of Seaport Square, at which point the phasing of the voluminous commercial rectangles B,C and D (below) will begin.

According to the BRA representative, because Seaport Square is private property and represents a major private investment by the property owner, the Boston Redevelopment Authority will not exert any influence to ensure concurrent or proportionate development of residential units to match the pace of commercial space. And so, phases are to be largely determined by market conditions.

[No mention was made at the Seaport Square meeting of the relatively recent $8 billion public investment in area infrastructure, harbor cleanup and related improvements, or the public investment in the past decade of Master Planning.]

Not surprisingly, however, the BRA is expected to include all 2,500 residential units in its annual statistics of "permitted" housing units citywide, pushing the City's so-called "permitted" housing numbers into the stratospheric 12,500+ range. Of course, only a small fraction of the BRA's "permitted" housing totals will ever be developed. Not a single residential unit of the hundreds of units that have been "permitted" and approved on Fan Pier and Pier IV in years between 2000 and 2005, has actually seen the light of day on City-planned parcels.

To it's credit, with 110 residential units in Phase One, the Seaport Square project will sets a milestone as the first residential project that may actually be developed on BRA-planned properties over the past decade of "Master Planning" in the entire South Boston Waterfront. The BRA can take this positive step in the direction toward fulfillment of the remaining 7,890 residential units and other public realm commitments anticipated in the agency's South Boston Waterfront Public Realm Plan of 1999.

And so, a new Boston neighborhood is indeed under development, with enough residents expected by 2010 to enliven a convenient store.


Phase one on Seaport Square: Commercial Rectangles


Top Image: Seaport Square marketing materials show a mixed-use residential neighborhood of 2,500 housing units, commercial development and parks. Buildings B, C, and D are the actual office towers being proposed for development in phase one of Seaport Square. (Oddly, buildings B and C are not visible in the developer's rendering even though those buildings are being sought for approval in phase one).

Bottom Image: Photo of Seaport Square model. These three buildings (B, C and D) are the office towers actually being sought for approval by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in phase one. Retail on lower floors and 82 residential units are also proposed for phase one. The residential neighborhood, which has been the focus of media attention and presentations by the developer, will exist only on paper as other components of the project are approved and constructed. The theory suggests that by developing the "upside," of a project (office/hotel and 82 residential units), all remaining parcels can be land-banked for future years when the residential market supports completion of the remaining 2,400 residential units and parks.

[Under this theory, an 18-hole golf course may also be possible].

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has no announced plans to expect housing density to occur in proportion with office and hotel approvals. Instead, the planning agency supports the developer's concept that remaining parcels can sit vacant until the housing market supports residential construction. Hundreds of thousands of new square footage beyond "as of right," captured by the developer in phase one of Seaport Square through the BRA's enactment of a "Planned Development Area", will not be tied to housing development concurrent with office and hotel construction.

Land use issues aside, the massing and architecture of buildings B, C and D have not been widely disclosed.

SAND supports the development of a dense, mixed-use urban neighborhood with a critical mass of residents, a public realm suitable for visitors and residents alike, massing and block sizes scaled down as buildings approach the water's edge and recreational greenspace to suit an evolving Seaport community. We believe this vision is entirely possible, given the millions in new FAR being made available to large-property owners above "as of right" in existing zoning, and given the $20 billion public investment in the Seaport District infrastructure, Boston Harbor cleanup and related area improvements.

For a look at Master Planning principles drafted in 1998 (with SAND's participation) by hired consultants of the Pritzker family for development of Fan Pier, click here. Ten years later, no residential units are under way on Fan Pier, and only 625 residential units were approved for all future phases.

Banker and Tradesman
April 21, 2008

Waterfront Project Developer Pledges Housing for Seaport

By Thomas Grillo, Reporter

The developer of a planned $3 billion waterfront community has assured Boston's Seaport District residents that they won't have to wait decades for housing.

"We're building a neighborhood," said John B. Hynes III, managing partner of Gale International, the Boston-based company that has proposed Seaport Square, a 6.5 million-square-foot mixed-use development to be built on 23 acres of South Boston parking lots. "The new district won't work if it's all office or all residential [space]. We will build this out through several real estate cycles while trying to protect our downside by creating enough critical mass to attract users regardless of where the cycle is."

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is holding public hearings on the project that would offer 2,500 units of housing in three buildings, 1.25 million square feet of retail, three 18-story office towers, an 800-room hotel, a school, cultural center and open space. But some residents are skeptical because a decade after the city called for as many as 8,000 condominiums and apartments in the area near the World Trade Center and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, few units have been built or are in the pipeline.

Hynes said the first phase of Seaport Square would include 82 condominiums that could be under construction as early as next spring. "We want to get these units done first because they serve as gateway sites into the Financial District," he said. "A second phase could be under way by 2011 and would include about 2,000 units."

Still, some residents remain doubtful that a critical mass of housing will be built. The city's 100-acre master plan for the district issued in 1999 to guide development promised "a vibrant 24-hour, mixed-use neighborhood anchored by 11 acres of new open space and 6 million square feet of development, with at least one-third as housing."

Since 2003, however, fewer than 700 units have been approved in the Fort Point neighborhood, including 597 at the Channel Center. Meanwhile, another 97 condos are under construction at FP3, a luxury project adjacent to the Children's Museum. About 1,200 units have been built if the adjacent South Boston neighborhood is included in the tally, according to the BRA.

The BRA has insisted that it never promised housing would be built first. The long-term goal is at least 33 percent residential and 33 percent commercial space, city officials said. But the developer and the BRA say much depends on the demands and financial realities of the market. Residents, however, say the places to build housing are limited.

Constant Fluidity

Hynes acknowledged that real estate is cyclical and that much will depend upon what's happening in the market.

"What product type is hot one day may be cold another, so there's a constant fluidity in the marketplace," he said. "But we don't have 6 million square feet of office because we don't want lobbies on the street where there should be a cityscape."

The Seaport Square housing plan calls for about 600 units of affordable and workforce housing. Hynes said he expects about 500 units to be purchased by empty nesters, while singles and couples will seek the remainder.

The parcel was once owned by businessman Frank H. McCourt Jr., who sold it to Hynes and Morgan Stanley Real Estate for $204 million. The proposed project site is within walking distance of the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse and the MBTA's Silver Line.

Meanwhile, residents of the nearby Fort Point area have raised objections to Lincoln Property Co.'s plan to convert a pair of warehouses into office space. The Boston-based developer is seeking BRA approval to transform the vacant property at 316-322 Summer St. into 140,000 square feet of office space with ground-floor retail, a rooftop addition and artist gallery/work space.

But neighbors protested the office component, saying the city appears to be retreating on a promise of more housing. In response, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and BRA Director John Palmieri have asked the developer to come up with a plan that includes some residential units. So far, the parties are at an impasse.

A BRA spokeswoman said officials are still negotiating with Lincoln for a mix of residential and office space at the property or somewhere in the neighborhood.

John Cappellano, Lincoln's senior vice president, recently floated the trial balloon to allow Studio Soto, an artists' gallery, to take about 3,500 square feet of space at the Summer Street property for $1 per square foot. The gallery was displaced when Archon/Goldman purchased the building they rented on Melcher Street.

Valerie Burns, a longtime Fort Point resident, said she supports space for Studio Soto but believes it will not solve the district's need for more housing.

"It would be great to have Studio Soto here; they've been a part of the arts community for many years," she said. "But providing gallery space fails to live up to the city's promise to create more housing in our neighborhood."

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