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Skyline blooms as Boston OK’s over $1.5b in projects

Sports apparel maker New Balance plans to build a 14-acre complex in Brighton.

Elkus Manfredi Architects, goodwin Procter, Howard/stein-hudson inc.

Sports apparel maker New Balance plans to build a 14-acre complex in Brighton.

Boston’s skyline is getting busy again.

City regulators this week approved more than $1.5 billion in new construction projects, including a $500 million expansion of New Balance’s headquarters in Brighton, as well as large residential and retail developments in Downtown Crossing, the Fenway, and the South End.

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The projects promise to create hundreds of construction jobs while transforming sections of the city in coming years with apartment towers, hotels, stores, and restaurants. The pace of building activity marks an abrupt change from the recent recession, when few substantial developments were built in Boston.

“These are all solid projects, and I believe you’ll see them in the ground soon,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Friday, adding that together they will add more than 1,200 residences. “What we’re trying to do is build housing to accommodate a new, younger workforce coming to our city,” the mayor said.

The approval of the $620 million Filene’s redevelopment at Downtown Crossing grabbed most of the attention at the Boston Redevelopment Authority board meeting Thursday night. That project includes a 625-foot residential tower, a renovated 1912 Filene’s building, and new offices, shops, and restaurants.

But the New Balance expansion and the projects in the Fenway and South End will also bring substantial additions to those areas:

 In Brighton, New Balance will redevelop 14 acres of industrial parcels near the Massachusetts Turnpike into a $500 million campus with a sports complex, retail stores, a new commuter rail station, and additional office buildings. The sports complex is slated to include a hockey arena and facilities for track and field, tennis, and basketball.

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Normandy Real Estate Partners will build apartments and a hotel on Albany Street.

 In the Fenway, developer Abbey Group will build a residential tower with 322 residences and retail stores on the site of a former McDonald’s restaurant on Boylston Street. The $150 million project will continue the rapid redevelopment underway in the area.

 In the South End, Normandy Real Estate Partners will construct a 19-story apartment tower with 220 units and an 11-story hotel with 325 guest rooms. The project along Albany Street should complement the redevelopment of the former Boston Herald headquarters next door. That site will get a Whole Foods Market and hundreds of apartments.

In addition, the BRA on Thursday approved the renovation of the former Boston City Hospital Nursing School on Northampton Street and Harrison Avenue into 245 affordable housing units.

Construction of those developments will not begin immediately — each must still finish designs and iron out other details — but their progress underscores renewed confidence among developers and real estate investors following the economic downturn.

“Some of the pent-up demand from those tough years is coming out now,” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, an industry association. “There are a lot of projects going on. People are still very positive about Boston.”

Currently more than 10 million square feet of residential and commercial space is under construction across the city, representing a total investment of about $4 billion, according to the BRA. That includes more than 3,300 housing units and another 1,300 dormitory rooms for local schools.

Another 5,000 housing units are approved for construction or are under review by city regulators, including hundreds of so-called micro apartments that are designed to be smaller and more affordable for young workers.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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