The owners of the Red Sox are moving into the real estate development business, partnering with a prominent developer in an ambitious, long-term venture that would transform the neighborhood just outside the walls of Fenway Park.
The five-acre project would feature office space, apartment buildings, retail stores, and possibly a hotel, along with public art and green space. It would be built on four sites along Jersey, Lansdowne, and Van Ness streets, as well as Brookline Avenue.
The parcels are owned by Fenway Sports Group Real Estate — a subsidiary of the Red Sox’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group — and the D’Angelo family, owners of the sports apparel company ’47 Brand.
The D’Angelos and FSGRE are partnering with WS Development ― a veteran retail developer that in recent years has shepherded the 23-acre Seaport Square complex ― to steer design and construction of the project.
The codevelopers said that while extensive planning has begun, they’re still working out many details, such as cost, square footage, building heights, and the exact mix of what they intend to build. They’re also considering the prospect of one day building out over the Massachusetts Turnpike behind Lansdowne Street, which would enable more ambitious development. On Monday, they notified community leaders and elected officials from the Fenway neighborhood about the project.
The group — including Sam Kennedy, president and CEO of the Red Sox; Bobby D’Angelo, vice president of ’47 Brand; and Jeremy Sclar, CEO of WS Development — have discussed a partnership for more than a decade, but those talks gained momentum over the last 18 months. Even as FSG has spent $350 million to refurbish the 108-year-old ballpark over the last 18 years, it gradually purchased nearby properties in anticipation of development.
“We are not some joint venture that is just looking to maximize height or density. We want to create value, but we have to make sure we do no harm to Fenway Park and the fan experience,” Kennedy said.
Few neighborhoods in Boston have undergone as much development over the past two decades as the Fenway, with the fast-food joints and gas stations of Boylston Street giving way to office and apartment buildings, their ground floors full of vibrant restaurants that ― before the just-ended baseball season with no fans in attendance ― have thrived on game-day crowds and a surging student population.
Lately, a wave of life-science companies have moved in, as well, eyeing the Fenway’s proximity to Longwood Medical Area. More are coming, with work about to start on two towers above the Massachusetts Turnpike between Beacon Street and Brookline Avenue, part of the massive Fenway Center project.
But the low-slung blocks immediately surrounding Fenway Park haven’t changed much.
“For 20 years, our goal has been to preserve, protect, and enhance the local and national treasure that is Fenway Park,” FSG principal owner John Henry said in a statement. (Henry also owns The Boston Globe.) “We are excited to now fully expand our focus through a partnership with WS and the D’Angelo family as we further contribute to a neighborhood that has transformed over the past two decades.”
That partnership has been decades in the making, as well.
The D’Angelos opened their store on Jersey Street in 1947 and gradually began accumulating land in the triangle between Jersey Street and Brookline Avenue, where they now own nine small parcels. When FSG — then called New England Sports Ventures — bought Fenway and its 9.67 acres in 2002, a relationship naturally grew.
“They always had interest in our Jersey Street [location] because it’s good property and it’s right at their doorstep,” said Bobby D’Angelo, who said he has received several substantial offers for his real estate over the years. “This deal was the right deal. We think that everyone is prospering by it."
WS will bring development expertise to the project. The Boston-area company has built suburban shopping centers such as Legacy Place in Dedham and The Street in Chestnut Hill, but it is perhaps best known now for leading the development of Seaport Square, where it’s constructing office buildings for Amazon and Foundation Medicine and bringing an array of retailers to the neighborhood.
Some elements of Seaport Square may be worked into the Fenway plans, Sclar said, including efforts to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and to add public art and green space. But he stressed there are key differences.
“Our job in the Fenway is to create public space at the ground level that will be embraced by the neighborhood and Greater Boston,” Sclar said. “Fenway’s urban. It isn’t like the Seaport, where there was a lot of land to work with.”
Indeed, the project won’t be contiguous. Its four distinct sites range from a large surface parking lot along Brookline Avenue to the stores and warehouses on Jersey Street, to a parking garage on Lansdowne Street where the developers are loath to build too tall, lest they block iconic views of the Citgo sign from inside the ballpark.
More detailed plans are likely to be filed next year, with probably months of community meetings and Boston Planning & Development Authority reviews to follow. Several people active in the neighborhood said they are anxious to see what the group has in mind and will watch closely to ensure that it meets the goals of the broader Fenway neighborhood.
“I’m looking forward to talking with this partnership about all the ways in which their development can be responsive to neighborhood needs through investments in the public realm, affordable housing, and carbon neutrality," said City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who represents the area. "Our urban fabric reaches its best form when large institutions like the Red Sox work closely with the communities in which they are embedded on major projects like this.”
In addition to housing, retail, office, and lab space ― and maybe a hotel ― the development could allow the Red Sox to leave their cramped offices in Fenway Park. That would also free up room in Fenway’s concourses. A new ’47 Brand team store will fit in somewhere, if not necessarily in its current spot across from Fenway’s Jersey Street gates.
Longer-term, building something larger on a deck over the Mass. Pike could vastly increase the scale of development and help knit together the Fenway, Back Bay, and South End neighborhoods. But so-called air rights developments are notoriously complex — Fenway Center took two decades of planning — so the group decided to push ahead with a smaller project first.
“We think there is an opportunity" to build over the Pike, Sclar said. “We’re going to spend time really thinking about it deeply, and we’re not going to let that hold this up.”
As for timing, Sclar said the group isn’t dissuaded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted many companies to have employees work from home and has hurt Boston’s office market, at least for now. Demand for life-science space remains voracious, he notes, and Longwood isn’t going anywhere. Nor will Fenway be this quiet forever.
“We’re thinking out five, 10, 20 years,” he said. “We have conviction in the city; the city has an amazing future. This project will be built and open after [the pandemic] is a bad memory.”