The hole in Boston’s Downtown Crossing will finally be filled. For real this time, they say. Now that developer Millennium Partners has committed to a $500 million mixed-use project at the former Filene’s site, residents, businesses, and city officials are eagerly anticipating what will heal the massive scar in the heart of what was once the city’s prime shopping district.
So far, Millennium has provided few details about its intentions at the corner of Washington and Franklin streets. Details haven’t gone beyond talk of a tower as tall as 600 feet with residences, offices, and stores. But after years of staring at a crater, other people have plenty of ideas about what they want there, and what the neighborhood needs to rebuild and revitalize.
“This is the centerpiece of Downtown Crossing,’’ said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who had repeatedly lashed out at Vornado Realty Trust, the previous lead developer that faced financing problems and never moved forward with work after demolishing the Filene’s building in 2008. “We don’t want low-hanging-fruit retailers. You have to pay attention to the historic roots. I’m trying to be practical. But it’s good to have people dream.’’
Millennium Partners, which declined to comment, is hoping to begin construction within a year, and intends to present a plan in several months. In the meantime, we asked various stakeholders to offer their advice on what kinds of components should be incorporated into the massive project.
Major themes that emerged from those conversations included making the top floors of the building accessible to the public with attractions such as an observatory and restaurant. A grocery store is also high on wish lists, with specialty markets Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods receiving specific mentions. It’s important to create an interactive, entertainment destination as part of the project, according to some stakeholders, rather than just offer an assortment of merchants hawking goods. They also emphasized that the development should pay tribute to the retail district’s historic past - it was for many years home to Filene’s Basement and old-style department store Jordan Marsh - while also providing a vision for a vibrant Downtown Crossing.
Visions for renewal
Bostonians share their dreams for the neighborhood:
Look, up in the air
JEROLD KAYDEN, professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard University’s graduate school of design
1. An extraordinary indoor entertainment space
2. A rooftop observatory
3. An inviting indoor public space
“Washington Street is about entertainment and shopping. Connect MIT’s Media Lab and similar local creative outlets with Nintendo, Activision Blizzard, Sony, and Electronic Arts to create a place that tourists and locals alike want to visit. If you’re going to have a 60-story building, then let’s have the public able to access the top. And it would be nice to have an indoor version of Post Office Square - somewhere for people to meet during forbidding months of the year. Let’s face it. Boston doesn’t have one and should. And it could be a hybrid indoor-outdoor space. Indoor in the winter, outdoor in the summer and green.’’
MARY ANN PONTI, Downtown Crossing resident
1. Trader Joe’s
2. Top floor restaurant
“We need more food retailers and specialty stores, like chocolate and cheese stores. And it would be spectacular to have a bar or restaurant - think Rainbow Room or Top of the Peninsula. For the outdoor public space, I would love to see trees, a large outdoor art sculpture, and places to sit.’’
ROSEMARIE SANSONE, president of Downtown Boston Business Improvement District
1. Upscale food hall
2. Boston stars exhibit
“I would like to see an indoor exhibit display that showcases how people with connections to the greater Boston area have become brand names in every category - sports, medicine, business, theater, literary, television, music, and politics to mention a few. Names like Julia Child, Arthur Fiedler, Peter Wolf, Carly Simon, Dr. Paul White, Bobby Orr, Tom Brady, Robert Parker, Donnie Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Rashida Jones, Eliza Dushku, Ben Affleck, Aimee Mann, Barbara Walters, etc. We create a place that showcases our very own Boston stars. And the food hall concept is taking off in New York, but the focus is on slow food rather than fast food. Think higher-end food court, combined with European open market and specialty food offerings.’’
RICHARD FINN, manager at E.B. Horn Jewelers in Downtown Crossing
1. Return of Filene’s Basement
“I would love to see some smart retailer buy the Filene’s Basement name in bankruptcy. You could put Filene’s Basement back into that space. I think it’s a money maker. We have enough phone stores and shoe stores. We need some moderately upscale women’s specialty type stores. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Nordstrom, or a spectacular anchor like that. That’s certainly a strong draw.’’
THOMAS M. MENINO, Boston mayor
2. Whole Foods
“There should be upper-grade type of retailers that will attract other people to shop down there. I’d like to see a flagship store. We need something special. Downtown Crossing is a viable area in downtown. It did well even with the hole in the neighborhood.’’
MIKE TESLER, president of Retail Concepts
1. Heritage Stores
“The dream scenario is Filene’s Basement is re-created with automatic markdowns, an escalator down, merchandise from great retailers, ‘Running of the brides,’ etc. but mixed with mobile apps, large screen video from the ‘old days,’ and social media buzz with daily deals. Maybe get Kennedy’s, RH Whites, Jordan Marsh brands as small memory shops. I envision these brands as little pop-up shops or kiosks within the new basement, or street-level mini-shops - not a full resurrected store like the Basement. The new Downtown Crossing brings back the best of the old. Everything old becomes new again.”