A prominent spot in downtown Boston could soon become — what else? — lab space, under a plan approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency Thursday.
The BPDA board approved a request by The HYM Investment Group to redesign the next phase of its massive overhaul of the Government Center Garage as a single, 12-story life science building, instead of three office and residential-oriented buildings around a pedestrian plaza that they initially approved in 2013. It would go up along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, roughly where the Haymarket bus depot stands now, after HYM takes down the hulking concrete garage that hangs over Congress Street.
HYM Managing Director Tom O’Brien told the BPDA board the project was shifting in response to requests by the MBTA that no new buildings be placed atop the Haymarket Green Line station itself. That necessitated changing the plans, which called for an office building over part of the underground station. The new building is shifted west, towards Congress Street, and will create a broad new plaza and bus terminal along the Greenway, which O’Brien said he hoped would improve pedestrian flow between the Greenway and Bulfinch Triangle and the West End.
The shift also coincides with an explosion in demand for life science space in Boston, with dozens of existing or planned office projects attempting to shift toward more lab-oriented uses. This building — which would include 410,000 square feet of office, lab, and retail space — would be among the most prominent sites yet in downtown Boston to make that move.
In a public hearing prior to the vote, representatives of several construction unions and neighborhood civic groups spoke in favor of the shift, as did the director of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, who said the redesign would better connect the North End, West End, and Government Center areas that all meet in this spot. A couple of residents asked about safety levels at the lab, given its location in such a dense and highly traveled part of the city; O’Brien and BPDA staff said it is being designed for, and limited to, Level 2 biosafety materials, which are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the most hazardous. Another asked to ensure the new bus terminal improve waiting areas to better protect people from the elements.
The project was unanimously approved.
It was one of several new developments OK’d by the BPDA board Thursday, including a new lab building on Brookline Avenue in the Fenway, a 120-unit residential complex on Neponset Wharf in Dorchester, and replacing the now-closed Crate and Barrel on Boylston Street in the Back Bay with a larger office and retail building.