As WS Development approaches the final phase of Seaport Square — its 23-acre planned development in the Seaport — the Chestnut Hill-based developer wants to do something out of the ordinary: trading a building for a little more grass.
At the same time, it’s reducing the amount of housing and retail in the massive complex, while adding office and research space.
In documents recently filed with the city, WS is asking to do away with plans to build a 30,000-square-foot, three-story building adjacent to the existing Seaport Common — between Northern Avenue and Seaport Boulevard — and instead extend the open space next door. James Corner Field Operations, which designed New York’s High Line and has worked with WS on other Seaport projects, will redesign the expanded Seaport Common. All told, the area will span about 1.4 acres.
The vision for the design is “an exceptionally high-quality, functional, people-first park that will provide a beautiful public space of a scale that will form a true centerpiece of the Seaport neighborhood and celebrate with continued deference and grace the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial on Northern Avenue,” the development team wrote in a May 6 filing to the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
WS is also planning changes to the to-be-built building next door. 120 Seaport was initially planned to be a residential tower with retail on its lower floors. WS is now asking the city to change that use to 620,000 square feet of office or research and development space with 30,000 square feet of retail.
But the developer is not doing away with the planned affordable units within 120 Seaport. Rather, it’s shifting those units into two other future buildings nearby, in the block south of Seaport Boulevard that is expected to eventually house thousands of Amazon workers in two offices.
One of those, located off Autumn Lane, is a building where residential units had already been planned. WS is now proposing to cut the total residential space there by 101,000 square feet and to add 150,000 square feet of office and research space.
The second property that will house the affordable units is a property off Congress Street where WS had planned to build a hotel; it’s now proposing to develop both residential and office and research space there.
The two buildings will have a combined 500 residential units, of which 166 would be set aside at affordable prices. WS has not specified whether those buildings would be rental apartments or for-sale condominiums.
Expanding the park space and keeping all the planned affordable units was driven by WS’s “deep responsibility” to the neighborhood, said Yanni Tsipis, the company’s senior vice president of development for the Fenway and Seaport.
“We have been passionate about this community for many years,” said Tsipis, whose firm has managed retail in the project since 2007 and in 2015 paid $359 million to acquire 12.5 acres that was yet to be built. “We hope this major public gesture will meaningfully benefit this neighborhood and the city as a whole for generations to come.”
Longtime critic Steve Hollinger, meanwhile, contends the change is a “bait and switch,” adding a smidge of new park space but eliminating hundreds of badly needed housing units and adding lab space that will likely fetch top dollar in today’s overheated life science market.
“This represents a great loss for the Seaport,” he said.
After WS acquired the remaining Seaport Square acreage and acquired full development rights, WS redrew plans for several buildings and kicked off a run of development, including the Yotel hotel and the One Seaport block, which includes luxury residential buildings The Benjamin and Via atop a retail podium featuring L.L. Bean, The Grand Boston nightclub, and Tuscan Kitchen, among others.
WS completed work on Amazon’s 111 Harbor Way office last year, and construction has started on the second office at One Boston Wharf Road. One of the two future residential and office/research buildings planned along with those Amazon offices will house the Fort Point Community Theater, a 150-seat black box double height venue, while the 600-seat Seaport Performing Arts Center is planned for One Boston Wharf Road. An 18-story office and retail building at 88 Seaport Blvd., formerly home to the Our Lady of Good Voyage Shrine, is also planned.