Turning a liability into an asset requires an unusual kind of corporate alchemy. General Electric is betting $1.5 million that it can pull off such a transformation with an abandoned pedestrian bridge in Fort Point.
GE initially planned to demolish the four-story skywalk as part of the development of its $200 million headquarters overlooking Fort Point Channel. But neighbors balked at the idea, complaining that the so-called “green bridge” serves as an important visual reminder of the area’s industrial past.
GE reversed course in October, after Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office interceded.
Now, the company has offered a glimpse of its renovation plans for the structure. The project is scheduled to be discussed by the Fort Point Channel Landmark District Commission on June 8.
Consistent with its historical design, GE expects to keep a green wall on the east side of the bridge. But the bridge’s west side, facing downtown, would look quite different. The windowless facade, currently shielded by corrugated metal, would be replaced with banks of tall windows. The interior — oddly shaped at 40 feet long by 7 feet wide — is to be used as four separate lounges and quiet working spaces for GE employees.
Fort Point artist Karen McFeaters, who has incorporated the bridge into some of her paintings, said she was relieved that GE could find a use for it, calling the decision a smart move in terms of establishing good will with the company’s new neighbors.
“To me, it would be a big hole to see it go,” McFeaters said.
“The neighborhood is changing so quickly. I think it’s important to hang on to some pieces of the past here.”
The bridge was once an important link between buildings in the old New England Confectionery Co. complex. But it has long since outlived its original function. It now extends between one of two old brick buildings that GE will occupy and another former Necco building, currently owned by Synergy Investments. The Synergy-owned office building will remain walled off from the GE bridge.
For GE, figuring out how to keep the green bridge was an unexpected turn of events in an otherwise smooth permitting process.
GE moved to temporary offices in the neighborhood last year from Connecticut, and plans to occupy the two Necco buildings after they are renovated next year. Meanwhile, the company will build a modern, 12-story tower adjacent to those century-old brick buildings, and will likely move into the new structure in 2019 to complete the three-building headquarters campus.
Peter Cavanaugh, a GE executive who has helped oversee the Boston relocation, said he hopes the permitting for the bridge can be done this summer. Both the Fort Point landmark commission and the Massachusetts Historical Commission need to approve GE’s plans.
“We think we’re honoring the past of the bridge, recognizing that it’s a key part of the historical district,” Cavanaugh said.
“Here’s a key element that seemed important for the community. GE was able to find a use for it [so] it will be used for another 100 years.”
Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, praised GE for its efforts to retain the bridge, although he said he would prefer to see some tweaks to the final design.
“We think the bridge is an important part of the story of the history of that complex,” Galer said.
“Those multiple buildings were connected and really functioned like one unit, like a machine. ... We really appreciate the fact that GE changed course and recognized that and is now trying to come up with something that’s working and functional.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.