Business

High hopes raised for Government Center project

A rendering of a 47-story office tower, one of six buildings proposed for Government Center site.

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

A rendering of a 47-story office tower, one of six buildings proposed for the Government Center Garage site.

If architect Cesar Pelli has his way, Government Center’s brutish concrete buildings will be getting a fashionable new neighbor.

A glass skyscraper designed by Pelli would bring 528 feet of curvy glass to the corner of Congress and New Sudbury streets, where developers are preparing to build a cluster of high-rises to replace portions of the Government Center Garage.

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Pelli’s office tower, the centerpiece of the project, would be an unusually dramatic building for Boston, a city that has shied away from the kind of eye-popping architecture that defines the skylines of cities such as Shanghai and Abu Dhabi.

“It’s very important for this building to be unusual for Boston,” said architect Alex Krieger, a principal of the firm NBBJ. “People often complain how tall buildings here tend to be more dour. This could be a chance to enjoy something else.”

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Developer HYM Investment Group said it wants to begin construction next year. The project, estimated to cost well over $1 billion, would start with a 42-story residential tower planned to contain 450 units of rental and ownership housing. That would be followed by removal of the part of the garage that hangs over Congress Street and the construction of the 47-story office building.

In all, the project would result in six buildings containing 2.3 million square feet of commercial and residential space. Three high-rises would be built on the western portion of the site, and three smaller buildings would be built along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. A retail plaza would create a new connection between the Greenway and Canal Street.

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

While the portion of the garage above the street would be demolished, the core of the building at Congress and New Sudbury would remain, preserving 1,100 parking spaces. That part of the garage would be hidden behind the new high-rises.

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The development has received approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, but plans for each building must also be approved by the agency’s design commission. BRA acting director Brian Golden offered strong support for the project Wednesday.

“The redevelopment of the Government Center Garage site will reshape the downtown skyline in a way that few projects can,” he said. “We welcome a creative approach to its design and look forward to working with the architecture team to review their proposal more carefully.”

Developer Thomas N. O’Brien, a principal of HYM Investment Group, said the project’s architecture is meant to call attention to the vast change it would bring to the city’s downtown. He noted that it would remove one of the area’s worst eyesores, a relic of the Brutalist Urban Renewal Era, and reconnect the Bulfinch Triangle to the North End and Beacon Hill.

“The design needs to make a statement that reflects the importance of this centrally located site,” O’Brien said. “This is five acres of development in the midst of downtown. It’s an unheard of opportunity, and the design should really reflect that.”

Pelli’s firm, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects of New Haven, is collaborating on the design with CBT Architects of Boston.

Even in the best-case scenario, it would take many years to complete the project. HYM still must lure a major office tenant for its 47-story tower, as well as new retailers to fill a retail plaza along the Greenway. The project's primary investors are the National Electrical Benefit Fund and British-based Lewis Trust Group.

Boston is experiencing a burst of real estate development, transforming much of its downtown and outlying neighborhoods. A retail and condominium tower is under construction at the former Filene’s site in Downtown Crossing. Additional towers are being proposed at Winthrop Square in the Financial District and at the site of the Harbor Garage on Atlantic Avenue.

In the Bulfinch Triangle, Related Beal is building a new headquarters for Converse Inc., and Boston Properties plans to construct a series of towers in front of the TD Garden.

Of those projects, the Government Center Garage plan is by far the most aggressively designed. If built as proposed, Krieger said, it would be among only a few buildings in Boston that have fundamentally changed the neighborhoods around them. He said that list includes the Custom House Tower, the John Hancock Tower, and the Federal Reserve Building near South Station.

“This building has the potential to do the same thing in the Bulfinch Triangle,” he said. “To accomplish that, it has to be different. It has to be aspirational. It can’t be another contextual building.”

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