Fenway Center saga shows the difficulty of building over Mass. Pike

Anyone looking for evidence of how a real-estate development can work for the betterment of Boston should take a look at Fenway Center. The $450 million mixed-use project would add new housing and improve transit links in a neighborhood that needs both, and would weave together areas divided by the no-man’s-land of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Then again, anyone wondering why more developers aren’t flocking to cover up other sections of the Pike should look at Fenway Center, too.

Fortunately, project developer John Rosenthal won approval in an appeals court last week to move forward with Fenway Center. A judge upheld a Land Court ruling against abutter HRPT, which had reportedly sought to use its lawsuit as leverage to wrangle free parking out of Rosenthal. Meritorious or not, legal challenges end up in a Land Court that’s clogged with cases. Even a frivolous case can take months or years to fully work its way through the process, hampering a developer’s ability to line up financing.

Building over the turnpike, and over the train tracks that run along it, is complicated and expensive, even when neighbors don’t get in the way. Other proposals for so-called air-rights development, such as the Columbus Center project on the edge of the South End, flopped because the the financing never quite materialized. But two air-rights projects that have been built — the Prudential Center and Copley Place — proved vital in turning once-barren areas of Boston into commercial hotbeds, and in uniting surrounding neighborhoods. These projects shouldn’t be the last along the Pike.

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