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New plans for garage development focus on street

After pitch for skyscrapers at Harbor Garage fell flat, Chiofaro’s new plans offer up such street-level ideas as public art, swimming, and skating

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE; CHIOFARO: GLOBE FILE; RENDERINGS: ADD INC.

Developer Donald Chiofaro’s latest plan to redevelop the Harbor Garage is packed with possibilities. He proposes a beach, a swimming pool, outdoor dining, public art, and even a canal connecting the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to Boston Harbor.

After shelving a prior scheme for two skyscrapers on the garage site, Chiofaro is pitching an array of new ideas, with one key difference. This time, he is trying to focus the public’s attention on what could be constructed on the building’s ground floor, instead of along the skyline.

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“Our previous approach was obviously not successful at all,” said Chiofaro, referring to his twin-skyscraper plan. “That project is behind us, and to be candid we learned some lessons.”

Now Chiofaro and his architects are not talking about the height of any eventual buildings on the site. During a meeting with neighbors and planners last week, they focused exclusively on how to improve the site with public spaces, retail options, water features, and other amenities.

Many neighbors and city officials welcomed Chiofaro’s latest approach, but some say it is difficult to offer support without seeing a more complete proposal.

“We want redevelopment of the garage at a scale appropriate for a place right on the Greenway and the Harbor,” said Thomas Palmer, a spokesman for the trustees of Harbor Towers, a neighboring condominium complex. “We are eager to see the whole package.”

The Harbor Garage is among the most challenging properties to redevelop in the city. In addition to the complexities of building on the waterfront, it is also difficult to please the variety of neighbors, public officials, and institutions that all have opinions about what should be built at the site.

Among the ideas Donald Chiofaro has suggested in a redevelopment of the Harbor Garage is a sandy beach.

RENDERING: ADD INC

Among the ideas Donald Chiofaro has suggested in a redevelopment of the Harbor Garage is a sandy beach.

In 2009, Chiofaro proposed building two skyscrapers — one 40 stories, the other 59 — that would have been connected by a rectangular “sky” arch at the top of the buildings. The proposal drew howling protests from some neighbors and hit a dead end in City Hall, setting off a war of words between Chiofaro and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

But in recent months, Menino has welcomed renewed discussions on the Harbor Garage site and Chiofaro has said he wants to participate in an open public process

His latest set of ideas — crafted with the Boston architecture firm ADD Inc. — was put forward as part of a broader city planning study to improve the downtown waterfront between the North End and South Station.

Chiofaro’s plan offers different options for improving public space on all four sides of the garage. It contains images of wider sidewalks and public art stretching back to the aquarium, a landscaped park or swimming pool along the harbor, and a canal on the south side of the building that could double as a skating rink in the winter, among other ideas.

The proposal also asks neighbors and planners whether they want to keep the existing above-ground garage as is, build on top of it, or demolish it to make way for a new development. On that point, Chiofaro noted that options for improving the property are limited if the garage remains.

“You don’t have much of an obligation or an opportunity with the garage as it is,” he said. “If you start from scratch, you have a little bit more of an obligation and you have a lot more of an opportunity.”

Chiofaro, who previously developed the International Place office complex, said he wants the public and other stakeholders to weigh in before he begins to discuss what could be constructed on the site.

In general, his calculation for the potential uses has not changed. If the garage is demolished, he said, it would be best to replace it with a mix of residences, offices, a hotel, and retail stores.

But that depends on whether a consensus emerges on a broader vision for the site — a process Chiofaro acknowledged will not be easy. “Somebody might say, ‘That’s a fabulous idea to put a beach there and a skating rink and a bocce court’,” he said, adding dryly: “And then somebody else might say, ‘I don’t want that stuff outside my window. I didn’t move to Boston to actually see anybody else.’ ”

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