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Development looking up

by Marc LaCasse
Contributor
Thursday Dec 29, 2011
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Despite a national real estate market that continues to decline in many large metropolitan areas, the Boston market has remained solid. This is especially true in the South End where prices and values have not only remained firm, but in some parts of the neighborhood have actually increased. 2011 has seen plenty of planning for future development in the neighborhood and the number of projects in the approval process continues to grow. During the next several years, we can expect to see many of these projects commence construction and continue to shape and change the neighborhood.

Churches

Four local projects involve buildings in which churches are related: three will be converted from churches into condominiums and one will be converted into a church. The Concord Street Baptist Church has been sold by the congregation and will soon become nine residential condominium units with garage parking for 21 spaces below grade. The same developer recently began construction at 5-10 St. George Street, facing Franklin Square park, on 33 residential units and 22 underground parking spaces at the site of the former "Jesus Saves" church.

On Tremont Street, the New Hope Baptist Church is in the approval process to convert the church building into four residential condominium units and approximately ten parking spaces in the basement level of the building. Recent plans presented to the South End Landmarks District Commission include removing a portion of the church roof on the West Concord Street side of the building and replacing it with glass to enclose an interior courtyard/garden connected to a large residential unit in what is currently the main sanctuary of the church.

At the corner of Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue, the Church of Scientology continues the planning and approval process to convert the historic Hotel Alexandra into its new Boston headquarters. Between the condition of the building, the lengthy approval process and the need to simultaneously sell its current headquarters on Beacon Street, the complexity of the project has slowed the start of construction. Nevertheless, local Church of Scientology officials continue to work with their architects and development team and hope to begin construction in 2012.

Harrison Albany Corridor Strategic Plan

For the past two and a half years, a 30-member community Advisory Group has been working with the BRA to create a planning tool that will guide future development in the Harrison Avenue and Albany Street corridor, extending from the Massachusetts Turnpike on one end to Massachusetts Avenue on the other end. The BRA Board of Directors approved the plan on Nov. 17 and the Boston Zoning Commission will consider proposed changes to the South End zoning code in a public hearing on Jan. 18, 2012. It is expected that the proposed changes to the zoning code, which will permit greater height and density in certain parts of the study area, will spur development in what is essentially the last undeveloped frontier in the South End.

Two such projects are located in what has become known as the "New York Streets" portion of the study area: Mass Pike to E. Berkeley Street bounded by Shawmut Avenue to Albany Street and I-93. Already approved by the BRA Board, the project would be a two-building hotel, developed by Normandy Partners at the intersection of E. Berkeley and Albany Streets on the site of the former Teradyne parking lot. Normandy recently announced plans to start construction in late 2012 or early 2013. The project seeks to take advantage of its relative proximity to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center with a direct connection over the West 4th Street bridge into South Boston and the Seaport District.

National Development of Newton is currently revising its plans for redevelopment of the 6.2 acre Boston Herald site at 300 Harrison Avenue. National filed a Letter of Intent with the BRA in June and presented preliminary plans for a large mixed-use project consisting of 262 apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space at street level, together with accessory parking. The community response to the preliminary plan was unexpected: they wanted more, bigger, taller and denser. Taking this cue, National has gone back to the drawing board and is working with its architects to roll out a new plan that is responsive to the community’s reaction. Watch for the new proposal sometime in 2012.

While the national economy and the relative unavailability of financing for large projects has put a damper on new development throughout the City of Boston during the last three years, 2012 could well be the year when that changes dramatically. The potential exists for construction of new hotels, new residential units and new businesses to add vibrancy to parts of the South End that have long been neglected, industrial or inactive uses. This will create jobs and add to the tax base of the City of Boston while at the same time enlivening the streetscape to make the neighborhood a safer place to live and work.

Marc LaCasse is an attorney in Boston and currently serves as the President of Washington Gateway Main Street. LaCasse represents the Church of Scientology, National Development Corporation of Newton and Michael Minkoff, the developer of New Hope.

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