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Northeastern University in Boston Details Plan for New Arena, Several Other Projects

Thu June 20, 2024 - Northeast Edition #15
Universal Hub

Northeastern University in Massachusetts filed detailed plans June 14 with the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) for its proposed replacement of Matthews Arena on St. Botolph Street.

In addition, the college laid out longer-term plans for a number of other buildings and properties across its campus, including dormitories and lab buildings, that could, if built, dramatically change the look of one stretch of Huntington Avenue in the city.

Universal Hub, an online local news source, reported that what is currently called the "262 St. Botolph Street Multipurpose Athletic Facility," or MFA, would be able to seat 4,000 fans for hockey games, 5,000 for basketball games and include recreational sports facilities for use by the entire campus, including an indoor turf field and rowing tanks.

According to Northeastern's project notification form, an auditorium also is proposed, which the school said might even become a place for Boston Public Schools to hold graduations.

Northeastern officials said they looked at renovating or expanding Matthews Arena, built in 1910, but concluded the current building is in such poor structural shape, extensive work would not be feasible.

"The [old] building has consistently had issues with structural stability and fire safety," the university said in its proposal. "While Northeastern has invested in the facility to address these issues, including most recently installing temporary bracing to mitigate safety concerns associated with differential settlement, the [arena] has been deemed beyond repair. Redevelopment has emerged as the preferred approach from a financial and programmatic perspective, in line with Northeastern's goals as an institution as well as a community partner.

The university began looking to expand Matthews Arena in 2019, Universal Hub noted.

"As a result of that work, Northeastern discovered the building's limitations, the gravity of the structural deficiencies [which go back as far as the 1940s], and the implications such an addition would have on the structural integrity of the facility," the school noted in the BPDA filing. "As a result of those studies, Northeastern proceeded with temporary structural improvements to the existing facility and is proposing redevelopment of the arena with the proposed project.

As designed, a new four-story arena would be topped by solar panels, part of Northeastern's push to reduce its carbon emissions.

The school hopes to begin demolition of Matthews Arena in early 2025, followed immediately by construction on the MFA. Opening ceremonies are tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2028, according to Universal Hub.

The new facility's construction is currently estimated to cost between $300 million and $350 million.

MFA Designed to Blend Into Surrounding Campus

In its filing, Northeastern University discussed how the new structure, planned to include the planting of 22 new street trees, would fit in with the surrounding area.

The new athletic complex's design "aims to create a unique building for the campus while responding to the surrounding neighborhood context. The scale of the proposed project is driven by the modern athletic and recreational program requirements, and [its architecture will] break down the building's massing to create dynamic, inviting and people-centric spaces for building users, guests and the community at large."

Northeastern also noted that paving along both St. Botolph and Gainsborough Streets "will relate in style to the existing enhanced streetscape across the street by the New England Conservatory of Music and further north along Gainsborough Street, stitching the project into the fabric of the greater neighborhood."

Site elements, such as benches, will offer space for gathering and resting, and a high building overhang will offer an all-weather area undercover.

The university plans to support its sustainability goals and provide sustainable space with green infrastructure, it said, such as rain gardens within the street to act as zones for stormwater management. Low maintenance salt tolerant plant material and continuous soil trenches will help to promote successful planting and tree growth.

With the filing, Universal Hub said Northeastern is set to begin a series of required community meetings, both with the general public and with an "impact advisory group" of local residents and business owners appointed by the BPDA, before the Boston agency's board votes on whether to approve the project.

Northeastern Created 10-Year Master Plan

In addition to detailed plans for the arena replacement, Northeastern also filed a proposed 10-year "institutional master plan" that calls for a number of other new buildings across the university campus.

The renderings and plans for these buildings are far less detailed; each will require the university to file a separate, far more detailed project notification form, as well as separate sets of community meetings, before work could begin on them.

These proposals include replacing the nearly 100-year-old Burstein Hall and Rubenstein Hall dormitories between 454 and 464 Huntington Ave., across from the MFA, with a 260-ft. tower that would include not only dorm rooms, but academic spaces and ground-floor retail, with the "unique opportunity to establish itself as a focal point for artistic and cultural activities, serving not only the university population but also the neighboring community," according to Northeastern.

A 20-story, 1,000-bed dormitory on Forsyth Street at Huntington Avenue also is proposed to replace the five-story White Hall, which the university shut down due to structural problems last August just as the fall semester was ready to begin.

Additionally, Northeastern wants to raze the Cabot Center gym at 400 Huntington Ave. to make way for a 250-ft.-tall "academic, research, and student life building."

Other future infrastructure projects on the university's wish list, Universal Hub reported, include:

  • The replacement of Northeastern's Mugar Life Sciences Building and Cullinane Hall, at the opposite side of St. Botolph Street from the arena, with a new 160-ft.-tall research building.
  • Replacing a two-story garage at 10 Gainsborough St. with a 150-ft.-high academic building that would become a campus life and recreational hub.
  • Constructing a 200-ft.-tall academic and research building at the current site of a century-old building at 70 Forsyth St.
  • Demolishing Lake Hall, Meserve Hall, Nightingale Hall, Holmes Hall, and Northeastern's Power Plant in order to build another new 200-ft.-high structure designed for instructional, research, administrative, and student life spaces.

Northeastern also announced that it hopes to perform major renovations to nine other buildings — including the former Horticultural Hall building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. — that it bought earlier this year.

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