The Seaport World Trade Center predates the rapid building boom taking place on the South Boston Waterfront. But the fixture could soon be swept up in those changes, as the building’s manager looks at potentially redeveloping the property.
Pembroke Real Estate, an affiliate of mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, confirmed it’s looking to hire a firm to study the redevelopment of the sprawling, roughly 800,000-square-foot complex. The structure includes 565,000 square feet of offices, where Fidelity is an anchor tenant, and 150,000 square feet of meeting space. It’s primarily two stories tall, with a three-story section.
A spokeswoman for Fidelity said the company doesn’t expect that any potential redevelopment would affect its local head count. Fidelity employs about 5,000 people in Boston, including about 1,500 at the World Trade Center. The investment firm’s headquarters is less than a mile away on Summer Street, overlooking the Fort Point Channel.
Pembroke spokesman Michael Aalto said the real estate company is still in the early stages of its assessment, and he couldn’t guarantee whether the vast exhibit hall in the World Trade Center would remain. Any redevelopment would include offices, and it’s possible that it could bring more retail spaces as well. Right now, there are just a few storefronts in the building, along Seaport Boulevard.
“The Seaport has really grown and it’s really evolved over time,” Aalto said. “It just seems like this presents an opportunity to further enhance the neighborhood.”
Aalto said the study will also likely assess the possibility of an expansion of the 428-room Seaport Hotel next door but is not expected to affect Pembroke’s two office towers in its Seaport Place campus, Seaport West and Seaport East.
Fidelity was part of the team that initially developed the World Trade Center complex in the mid-1980s, fashioning it out of the cavernous Commonwealth Pier building, through a land lease with the Massachusetts Port Authority. Over the next decade or so, Fidelity built out its Seaport Place campus, making the fund firm one of the first private companies to place a big bet on the area’s renaissance.
Eventually, others stepped up. In the past 10 years, office buildings and fancy restaurants have replaced the sea of parking lots located between Seaport Place and the old brick buildings in the Fort Point neighborhood, completely changing the complexion of the area and driving up property values. Public investments, such as the Ted Williams Tunnel and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, played a key role in the renaissance.
Seaport developer John Drew, who was a partner with Fidelity on the World Trade Center and other Seaport Place projects, said former Fidelity Investments chief executive Ned Johnson deserves credit for realizing the area’s potential long before others did.
“He understood that it was just remarkable to find a waterfront adjacent to the business district that was undeveloped,” said Drew, who plans to start construction on the second phase of his Waterside Place apartment complex this summer, a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
If Pembroke moves ahead with the redevelopment, Fidelity will likely try to renegotiate the terms of its lease with Massport to extend its length, a move that would help with financing any project. Because the pier is in a regulated tidelands area, state environmental officials would likely have a say as well.
The news that the World Trade Center could be redeveloped came as a surprise to Pat Moscaritolo, the chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. The World Trade Center serves as an important venue for what are known as “gate shows,” smaller-scale regional events where attendees can buy tickets when they arrive, as opposed to the bigger events that are the mainstay of the nearby Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
“There is still going to be a need for a home for those shows, those regional gate shows,” Moscaritolo said. “I’m confident that the data will show the need, and that will get put into the final design.”