The new operators of Faneuil Hall Marketplace are considering opening a hotel at the historic shopping plaza, along with adding more restaurants and small food stores inside Quincy Market, according to several people briefed on the plans.
Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a New York real estate firm that bought the lease last fall, has been working for months on a proposal that it says will transform the famed marketplace into a world-class destination for locals and visitors alike. The last major renovation took place a decade ago, and the property has lost its luster for many area residents over time.
Ashkenazy’s initial plans include bringing a hotel to the upper levels of South Market, which currently houses office space and some retailers, including Urban Outfitters, according to the people who requested anonymity because the proposal is not finalized.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is owned by the City of Boston, which leases three of the four buildings: North Market, South Market, and Quincy Market. Ashkenazy is also interested in opening more restaurants on the largely vacant second floor of Quincy Market and mixing up the first-floor food stalls with cheese and wine shops, and stores that offer prepared take-home meals that would draw local residents on their way home from work.
Officials from Ashkenazy, which oversees several other high-profile city centers, including Union Station in Washington, D.C., and the Rivercenter Mall in San Antonio, met last month with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and it is sharing ideas with other city agencies. Peter Meade, the BRA’s director, declined to discuss specific proposals and said he is unaware of a timeline for making the plan public.
“It’s much too early to comment after just one meeting with them. At this point, there are a broad array of ideas of what you can put into this treasure,” Meade said.
Ashkenazy, which hired Boston firm Elkus Manfredi Architects to guide design plans for improvements to the outdoor shopping center, said it is continuing to collaborate with the firm on a new vision for Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and is working closely with the city, the BRA, and the Faneuil Hall Merchants Association.
“Our focus has been to not only address necessary areas of improvement, but deliver new and creative ideas for activating underutilized spaces and enhance the marketplace so that it also appeals to the local community,” said Barry Lustig, senior vice president of Ashkenazy. “We want the marketplace to not only be a destination for tourism, but a destination for the residents of Boston.”
Ashkenazy would be likely to face several hurdles if it were to move forward on plans to open a hotel on a city-owned historical property, according to William McCall, president of McCall & Almy, a commercial brokerage and advisory firm.
“There are a lot of frogs that have to go on the log. It’s really going to be a complicated process to convert a historic building into a hotel and get approvals needed and the financing necessary to do it,” McCall said. “It’s an exciting idea, but it’s going to need a significant amount of equity and the approval system could be long and tortuous.”
Boston officials and local merchants are eager for Ashkenazy to spruce up Faneuil Hall Marketplace. City officials had a contentious relationship with the previous lease holder, General Growth Properties, because of concerns that it was not making needed upgrades and it was alienating local shop owners.
Some small businesses said they were pushed out of the complex because of high rents, and others have complained about the large space on the second floor of Quincy Market that has been empty since the Comedy Connection club left several years ago.
After it took over the 63-year lease for the property last fall, Ashkenazy said it wanted to upgrade the marketplace, bring in new retail concepts, and uphold the complex’s long-standing commitment to featuring local artisan talent. The last major renovation took place in the late 1990s when the original developer, Rouse Co., added four restaurants to anchor Quincy Market, built bathrooms on the second floor, and improved signage.
“The merchants are very excited about the future of Faneuil Hall Marketplace and are anxious to see and be a part of positive changes,” said Sara Youngelson, of the merchant association. “Faneuil Hall Marketplace will continue to be the ‘soul of the city’ to be enjoyed by locals and visitors.”