The owners of the Prudential Center are betting more than $180 million that visitors will pay to take in the views from what used to be the Top of the Hub.
Boston Properties said Wednesday that it’s getting started on an indoor-outdoor observatory in the top three floors of the Back Bay tower, Boston’s second-tallest building. Earlier this month, the company pulled a building permit for $42 million worth of interior work, according to city data, and executives said Wednesday they ultimately plan to spend $182 million on the project, which will include outdoor decks at the top of the 750-foot-tall building and a dedicated entry area in the main concourse of the Prudential Center mall.
“We want to build a world-class attraction here,” said CEO Owen Thomas. “This project will be the only observatory of its kind in Boston.”
It would replace the old Top of the Hub restaurant, which closed in early 2020, and the Skywalk Observatory just below it. When it announced the plans last September, Boston Properties imagined a modern — and “Instagrammable” — experience like those found atop skyscrapers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Despite a pandemic that has raised doubts about the future of massive office towers, that’s still the plan, though the price tag has climbed from the initial $125 million. Boston Properties executives said they studied traffic and pricing at other popular tourist attractions in Boston — Duck Tours, the New England Aquarium, and the Museum of Science — and said they’re still confident they can turn a profit.
“We’ll have the capacity to put a lot of people up there and push a lot of people through,” said president Doug Linde, on a call with analysts Wednesday. “This is something people will experience that they have not been able to experience in Boston.”
Ever since the observation center at the then-John Hancock Tower closed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Prudential Center has been the only place in Boston with public access to the top of a tall building, even if it meant buying a $21 ticket to the Skywalk or a meal at Top of the Hub. The Boston Planning & Development Agency has said it is “critical” that any project there maintain some kind of public access.
In some ways, Boston Properties’ plans offer even more access than before. It will feature an outdoor deck on the 51st floor, just below the building’s famous square crown. There will also be interior observation areas, exhibits, and food.
Boston Properties filed observatory plans with the BPDA last fall, and the project is undergoing design review. Executives with the company on Wednesday said the city has been supportive and that Acting Mayor Kim Janey recently toured the site.
The company looks forward to many more people coming through when the attraction opens in 2023.
“It’s [going to be] an amazing place,” Linde said. “You’re going to be able to be outside 365 days a year, as long as you don’t mind the weather.”