General Electric Co. moved ever-so closer to beginning construction of its $200 million headquarters complex in the Fort Point section of Boston after clearing a major city agency.
As widely expected, the board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency Tuesday approved the three-building complex, which includes a striking new 12-story glass building, topped off by a giant, sail-like solar “veil” and an illuminated GE logo. The project still needs zoning and environmental approvals, but GE said it on track to break ground early next year and have at least some of the three-building complex open in 2018.
Meantime, GE’s vision for its headquarters has come into sharper focus since the company first filed plans in August. Here’s few things we learned along the way:
■ This land is made for you and GE: Much of the ground floors of the three buildings will be open to the public, with a restaurant and coffee shop, a museum featuring GE’s inventions and innovations and a “Career Lab” aimed at science and tech education.
■ There’s nowhere to park: The campus will eventually house 800 employees, but will have just 30 parking spaces. We assume CEO Jeff Immelt gets one for his commute over from the Back Bay, but most workers will be encouraged to take the T and shuttle or walk across the channel from South Station. They can bike, too—there will be 180 bike racks onsite.
■ GE would do well to fill the place: The city is also offering tax breaks to GE that would total $25 million over 20 years, if the company adds 800 jobs. It has until 2024 to hit that number, at which point the city would knock $1.5 million a year off GE’s predicted $4 million-plus property tax bill. But if, for some reason, GE can’t meet that goal in a given year, the size of the tax break would be cut, possibly to as little as $725,000, depending on how many people work there.
■ On high ground: During October’s “King Tide,” water from Fort Point Channel washed onto the parking lot where the new building will go. GE has a plan for that. The building will sit almost 20 feet above sea level, on land that will slope gently up from the Channel. That should be enough to withstand a 500-year flood in 2075, GE says. And mechanical and safety systems will be stored on the building’s roof, too. Just in case.
■ That solar panel thing hanging over the building is not universally beloved: Call it a sail. Call it a wrap. Call it, as GE does, a “solar veil.” The giant canopy that runs up the side of the building and angles as high as 65 feet above the roof is perhaps its most distinctive feature. GE says the solar installation will provide 10 percent of the energy needs of its campus.
But the solar veil has gotten pushback from neighbors. In a letter to the BPDA, several noted that covering the building mechanical systems with a 65-foot-high structure is “extremely unusual,” and could set a bad precedent. Still, the veil stands in the building’s final version. Suffice to say, GE’s headquarters is so unusual, it may not be precedent for much.