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The flock of cranes that's descended on the Fenway—and can be seen from almost anywhere in Boston—represents about $3B in development...


Real Estate Bisnow, BOSTON, MA, April 23, 2014 - The flock of cranes that's descended on the Fenway—and can be seen from almost anywhere in Boston—represents about $3B in development and enormous growth for such a tightly packed city. (Weren't large groups of cranes coming to build a city part of a Nostradamus vision once?) The changes are pulling the Fenway, which once seemed distant and scruffy, into the heart of our newly vibrant downtown.

Recently, the Fenway has become a year-round destination with an infusion of retail that's brought the streets alive, says BRA senior planner Jonathan Greeley. He's standing in front of the new $15M Yawkey Commuter Rail Station designed to become that state's first “zero net energy” solar powered station in a few years. The developer, Meredith Management, will start to install the solar energy plant when another of its projects, the $550M Fenway Center, is in its third year of construction. (It recently won BRA approval for $4.6M in tax relief.) Located across the street from Fenway Park, that isn't just any “42” behind John; it was the number worn by Jackie Robinson. (It's also the atomic number of molybdenum, but not many people really care about that.)

In the ‘90s, The Abbey Group kick-started the creation of the new and improved Fenway with its purchase of an old Sears warehouse/distribution center, renamed Landmark Center. The conversion into offices and retail—much of it geared to attract users in the adjacent LMA—was so successful, Abbey sold it for $530M to JP Morgan and Samuels & Associates in 2011. Now, Abbey's coming full circle (in commercial real estate terms) by building a multifamily project: the $175M Viridian at 1282 Boylston St. A former parking lot that Abbey acquired from the Red Sox in '09, it will have 342 residential units, 12k SF of retail, and 2,700 SF of community space. The team: Suffolk Construction, GC; Bruner/Cott, architect.

Samuels has so much confidence in the Fenway as a mixed-use neighborhood that it's building 232k SF of spec offices in the $315M Van Ness, which will also have 172 apartments and 200k SF of retail, including a City Target. (Because where else would people go to fill those 172 apartments with stuff?) It's building open plan, LEED Gold certifiable office space with an expansive window line, a virtually column-free interior, and an outdoor roof deck terrace, says EVP Peter Sougarides who estimates the company's Fenway investment to be $2.3B (with more to come). He expects the Van Ness office space will attract more tech companies to expand the base of Fenway users beyond the medical, healthcare, and life science tenants that pervade the LMA. Already there's of interest from Cambridge companies seeking room to grow.

Goodbye Burger King; hello Skanska's $100M, 200k SF, 215-unit multifamily project with ground-floor retail. The project, approved in December, reflects the wishes of the current Fenway residents and the city: retail on the street with residences above, Jonathan says. In '02, the current Red Sox ownership group recommitted to Fenway Park, freeing much of the surrounding land in the area for development. In '04, the city and community completed a rezoning process that allows greater density and height for commercial development along Boylston Street. (If you think it's hard to get Sox tickets now, just wait a few years.) With this project, Skanska is joining other developers to bring more food and amenities into the area.

By next fall, Samuels expects to start construction of the $190M Point at this triangular site where Boylston and Beacon streets converge. It will have 300 apartments and retail. Developers are taking advantage of the city's job growth, the new-found allure of urban living and the ample amount of capital available, says Peter. The challenges that any developer faces: the rising cost of materials and scarcity of labor.

The $90M federal project to restore and day-light the Muddy River to prevent flooding, restore the landscaping and reorganize traffic around the rotary is a boon to another Samuels project: the $500M redevelopment of the Landmark Center across the street. It's a “huge inspiration for us,” says Peter. By year-end '15, the improved river will reconnect a broken link in Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace (we've been meaning to get it fixed, but the jewelry store is always closed when we go) and encourage use of the parkland. The renovated Landmark will have an additional 500 apartments and 180k SF of retail, including a Wegman's supermarket.

By June, the Boston Conservatory, HQ'd at 8 The Fenway, is slated to complete its new building at 132 Ipswich St. The $20M, 20k SF facility will house a performance space, an orchestra rehearsal hall, dance studios, teaching space and student service areas. The three-story building designed by NY-based Handel Architects allows the Conservatory, which celebrates its 150th in 2017, to consolidate operations here from three leased properties. The building backs up to the Mass Pike, a depressed highway that cuts a canyon through the city, where more air-rights projects are likely to be built in coming years.

Click here to read this story in Real Estate Bisnow or click here to view other Suffolk stories in the News section of this site.