Two months after groundbreaking, developers of the $130 million Merchants Row in Quincy Center have announced changes that will make the project lower, wider, and woodier.
The most noticeable change is that a planned 15-story residential building will be reconfigured into a six-story structure that takes up more land.
Drawings unveiled last week show that residential buildings will splay out in three structures, and retail space will increase 60 percent on the site, as Street-Works LLC develops more properties on the block. Parking spaces will be provided on one level instead of two.
The buildings have retained their same character and feel, and the public outdoor areas have been increased by 50 percent. Alba’s restaurant will still anchor the block.
“We said with the additional site, [we could] build the same number of units we had in the tower, but low-rise now, and keep the quality of the units, keep the loft, keep the same customer experience, and have a lower cost,” said Richard Heapes, co-founder of developer Street-Works.
The decision was only partially based on the rising cost of construction in the Boston area. Several tenants who had previously declined to sell to Street-Works came back to the table, opening up the construction area for the developer to work with.
“Our original scheme was based on a site a certain size, purely based on who we had existing contracts with. . . . We had a couple people at the end of the day weren’t prepared to sell, so we had to roll on and move on,” Heapes said. “We figured it out, we started to knock buildings down, and those people said, ‘Would you like to have a conversation again?’ ”
According to Heapes, though the building will switch from steel to wood and be configured much differently, the alterations won’t need additional Planning Board approval. The changes will go before both the City Council and the Planning Board for review.
Mayor Thomas Koch is already on board.
“Overall it makes for a better project, the numbers work better, we’ll have more retail,” Koch said. “. . . If we knew this months ago and held back, it would have made sense, but we’re trying to push forward with all the information you have at any point in time.”
Koch also said the new plans alleviate concerns that the height of Merchants Row would overshadow the historic buildings in the area.
Though the square footage allotted to retail will increase, thus meeting the current demand in the market, Heapes said, the square footage for residential and commercial properties will stay the same in Merchants Row.
Also remaining basically unchanged is the timeline, Heapes said. Apartments will still be available by 2015. The additional demolition will slow down the work, but that will be offset by significantly less time for digging and by cutting the parking garage to one level.
“We control more of the block, have more street retail, bigger public space while maintaining the same . . . quality for less cost,” Heapes said.
Merchants Row is the first phase of the overall $1.6 billion downtown redevelopment. Heapes said these changes probably won’t be repeated in later stages.
“I don’t expect over the course of all Quincy Center for costs to be going up. They will stop at some point, fluctuate, as we establish new Quincy Center in this first phase,” Heapes said.
Still, the alterations leave a lot of unanswered questions for city officials.
Said City Councilor Doug Gutro, chairman of the Downtown Committee, before the announcement: “The acquisition of new buildings means a new mix of street-level retail, and mixed use, which is perfect. Gives you a longer playing field up and down Cottage [Avenue] to set back everything and have it conform, so I get that. But I want to know not just for Merchants Row but the entirety of the project: How does this change the mix of commercial, retail, residential?”
Gutro said he has compiled a resolution to be announced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting asking for a cumulative update on Merchants Row and the entire downtown project.
“This modification could be something more enticing than the original plan,” Gutro said. “I’ll withhold judgment until I see it. All things being equal, it’s an encouraging sign that new partners are coming on board and looking to do more, not less.”