Air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike in Back Bay near the Prudential Center are being sought by a developer hoping to build a 32-story mixed-use tower at 1000 Boylston Street, with as much as 689,000 square feet of space within it. ADG Scotia II filed a Project Notification Form with the Boston Planning and Development Agency January 3 and has begun the long process of winning approval, which is complicated not only by the City of Boston’s zoning process, but having to deal with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
According to the PNF, the project would cover the roughly triangular Parcel 15 of the MassPike air rights, bound by Boylston, Dalton, Scotia and St Cecilia Streets. In addition to the air rights, the project would also use a vacant lot on Scotia Street behind the parking garage with Bukowski in it.
The first two floors of the building would be 35,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 342 residences both for rent and sale and a 303 space parking garage. A podium of six or seven stories would cover the whole site (excepting the public way on Cambria Street). In addition to containing the commercial sections of thre building, the podium would contain the commercial part and the parking garage. Over the podium two towers would rise, a 32-floor, 566 feet high 160-condo West Building and the 283 feet-tall, 17-story East Building with 182 rental apartments. In order to build the development, 23,000 square feet of decking would have to be built over the Pike. The total ground cover will be just over 40,000 square feet.
The West building will contain 442,000 square feet, or 2,762.5 square feet per condo and the East Building will have 212,000 gross square feet, or 1,165 square feet per apartment. Designed by Elkus Manfredi, the renderings show a design that is unsurprisingly virtually identical to everything Elkus Manfredi designs.
Overall, it’s a good proposal for a location with a lot of potential but limited capacity. Getting these air rights parcels built over is a very good thing for everyone, but they do present technical and financial challenges. However, there are several important problems.
The small number of residential units for such a project indicates that they will be in the luxury range. This is not a good idea. Apart from all the issues with luxury apartments and the inevitable opposition building more will provoke, the fact is the luxury housing market nation-wide has been overbuilt. This is largely the result of long design review processes, zoning regulations designed to prevent the construction of naturally affordable housing (or any housing, for that matter) and high land and labor costs.
It would be nice if the developer not only increased the number of units, but eliminated the parking garage and used modular construction techniques. The Elkus Manfredi design is just as mass produced, but a modular building would be much cheaper to build and getting rid of the parking would make the whole thing much lighter, reducing costs further and preventing more cars from coming to the heavily trafficked Back Bay neighborhood (and with Hynes and Back Bay Stations right there, along with a Trader Joe’s and a Shaw’s, there’s not much call for a car).
With 654,000 square feet of habitable space, having 700 square foot units (like in the Avalon developments on the other side of the Prudential Center), would allow the developers to put 934 apartments on to the site. If they were willing to do that, the City ought to expedite the zoning and permitting process.
Another big issue is with the above rendering of the street view. It shows what appear to be three storefronts, which are just parts of the blank glass curtain wall. They are undifferentiated and boring and therefore at odds with the stated project goal of fostering vibrancy along Boylston Street. If one spends any time at all on that street one sees that all of the foot traffic, all the life, is concentrated along the parts that have the old 19th century buildings. These have very frequent storefronts — 20 to 25 feet for the most part — and a lot of restaurants and stores. The Boylston Street frontage is approximately 263 feet, space for 13 stores or restaurants instead of four. The tenants also should be encouraged to make their fronts different from each other. This would be better in general, but it will also reflect the rest of Boylston Street and Newbury Street. It will also be easier to tenant 13 smaller spaces instead of four gigantic ones.