Millennium Tower Will Rise to Give Boston’s Skyline an Updated?Look

In the shadow of the big dig, at the end of the nation’s economic collapse in 2008, Boston was a maze of crumbled bridges, cracked highways and decrepit buildings, decaying and empty in gritty back st

📅   Wed August 26, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Of all the many examples of Boston changing its skyline, the most symbolic is the Millennium Tower, shooting up from a big hole in the ground that was once the Filene’s Basement building.
Of all the many examples of Boston changing its skyline, the most symbolic is the Millennium Tower, shooting up from a big hole in the ground that was once the Filene’s Basement building.
Of all the many examples of Boston changing its skyline, the most symbolic is the Millennium Tower, shooting up from a big hole in the ground that was once the Filene’s Basement building. More than a dozen projects are centered in the downtown and other core neighborhoods — 14 in South Boston and the waterfront or seaport districts.
Boston Globe photo “To see one of the tallest buildings in Boston growing from that site is a really important sign of Boston’s economic resiliency and recovery. That really removed a psychological wound and sent a signal…that we were back and better than Developers credit robust public engagement and a streamlined development review process outlined in Article 80 for accelerating the approval, permitting and execution of a multitude of projects of significant size.
Campion and Company photo Projects include high-rise, high-end housing complexes, housing for middle income people in the workforce, and new corporate headquarters, such as the greatly-anticipated Millennium Tower archpaper rendering

Of all the many examples of Boston changing its skyline, the most symbolic is the Millennium Tower, shooting up from a big hole in the ground that was once the Filene’s Basement building.

In the shadow of the big dig, at the end of the nation’s economic collapse in 2008, Boston was a maze of crumbled bridges, cracked highways and decrepit buildings, decaying and empty in gritty back streets.

According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (B.R.A.) about 70 construction projects are just finishing, are ongoing or starting in Boston — including the Boston Landing New Balance headquarters developments, one of the biggest and important new buildings erected in the city in decades.

As B.R.A. Director Brian Golden recently said to WBUR, a major media outlet in the heart of downtown, “We’re going through what is arguably the biggest building boom in the history of the city of Boston.”

Downtown Projects

The irony is not lost on Golden or his colleagues at the B.R.A. Boston has always had the reputation as one of the most difficult cities to traverse — with no logic in its road plan, narrow, one-way boulevards and no parking.

What is gratifying to Golden and other members of his group is that more than a dozen projects are centered in the downtown and other core neighborhoods — 14 in South Boston and the waterfront or seaport districts.

These projects include high-rise, high-end housing complexes, housing for middle income people in the workforce and new corporate headquarters, such as the greatly-anticipated Millennium Tower, rising from what Golden called a huge scar in Boston’s earth.

“The heart of downtown Boston had a gargantuan crater in it for years and that vexed city hall and the B.R.A. tremendously,” said Golden. “So, to see one of the tallest buildings in Boston growing from that site is a really important sign of Boston’s economic resiliency and recovery. That really removed a psychological wound and sent a signal…that we were back and better than before.”

Unexpected Community Advantages

When the economy collapsed at the end of 2008, projects defaulted and lost financing. The B.R.A. said the permitting process never really stopped — that builders had enough vision to see the cycles that drive the real estate market, the city and the overall economy.

There were other unexpected advantages as well.

“The boom in development has allowed us to engage with the community in ways we weren’t afforded during the development lull. This is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for us; to get feet on the ground and to introduce ourselves to Boston residents,” said Colin Smith, assistant director of media and public relations of B.R.A. “With new leadership in place here at the B.R.A., it’s important that we meet with neighborhoods and reinforce the importance of collaboration through a public process.

“To underscore what a difference a few years makes, at the end of 2009 there were 4.5 million square feet of projects under construction. Today, nearly 13 million square feet are being developed,” said Smith. “Despite the impacts of the recession on construction in Boston, we were still approving a significant volume of projects during the down years.”

Those who have underestimated Boston’s ability to come back have been proven wrong going back to the American Revolution and Bunker Hill.

“People understand that the market goes through cycles, but Boston is a growing and desirable city. It was only a matter of time before the projects approved during the recession started to take off, and that’s what we’ve seen the past couple of years as developers have had an easier time attracting financing,” said Smith.

Smith and Golden credit robust public engagement and a streamlined development review process outlined in Article 80 for accelerating the approval, permitting and execution of a multitude of projects of significant size.

In 1996, the Boston Redevelopment Authority adopted Article 80 to provide clear guidelines for the development review process relating to large projects, adding more than 50,000 sq. ft. (4,645 sq m); small projects, greater than 20,000 sq. ft. (1,858 sq m); planned development areas; new overlay zoning districts for project areas larger than one acre; and institutional master plans, projects relating to academic and medical campuses.

Article 80 was adopted because the parameters of these unique projects rarely fit neatly within the existing zoning code, and a more predictable review process was needed. The Article 80 process may include, but is not limited to, review of a project’s impacts on transportation, public realm, the environment and historic resources. B.R.A. project managers assist developers in navigating the Article 80 process. Public input is encouraged throughout a project’s review timeline.

“A big part of development review is the public process. We advertise community meetings and have an extensive set of outreach tools, like an online calendar, weekly newsletters and an optimized social media presence,” said Smith. “This ensures that neighborhoods stay informed and engaged, and that development teams remain accountable to the communities they serve.”

With the city’s configurations and dimensions set decades ago and 70 projects in the pipeline, it may be possible for Boston to expand even further.

“We’re asking ourselves that question now. The first citywide plan in 40 years recently launched, Imagine Boston 2030 [www.ImagineBoston.gov] and a consultant was just chosen to lead the charge,” said Smith.

In an interview with WBUR’s “Morning Edition,” David Carlson, deputy director of Urban Design of B.R.A. said, “The city has been described as a city on a hill, but as for design, it’s a city on many hills. Boston has always been about innovation, not easily categorized as a city with a single vision.

“…[We have an opportunity to] rise up and catch the [development] wave and [ride] it as far as we can, using that force of development to infill the areas where the city could use some better treatment. The tougher places are the ones you could advocate for when [there is a]…boom like the one we’re experiencing,” said Carlson.

“Growing up [instead of expanding outward] could be very healthy for the city. In general, cities are all about density and a concentration of people coming together. We have tried quite deliberately to push for taller buildings and have a near 700-foot tower [Dalton Street] in development,” said Carlson.

Regarding Boston’s character and culture, Carlson said, “Boston has very strong bones. What you experience when you come to Boston is the nature of Boston, [which is] not just the physical fabric of Boston; and so both are going to endure.”

For more information, visit www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.