A flood-prone parking lot next to Gillette’s World Shaving Headquarters in Fort Point will soon be transformed into a three-building lab and residential complex, a $1.2 billion project that will bring new park space and a public performing arts amphitheater to the neighborhood.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency on Thursday approved Related Beal’s 1.1 million-square-foot Channelside project, located at 244-284 A St. fronting the Fort Point Channel. The project includes a 340-unit apartment complex — including 68 units set aside at affordable rents under the city’s inclusionary development policy — a 418,000-square-foot lab building and a third 322,000-square-foot commercial building.
“The key, really, for organizations to bring employees back to the workplace is providing engaging, immersive, experiential environments, and Channelside oozes with the opportunity to do that,” said Stephen Faber, executive vice president of Related Beal, in an interview.
The development adds to a series of projects planned on old Gillette sites along Fort Point Channel, including the General Electric Co. headquarters and a $700 million genetic research center being built for pharma giant Eli Lilly & Co. Developer Tishman Speyer bought another 2.5-acre portion of former Gillette parking lots at 232 A St. last year, and recently opened a life-science building at nearby 105 W. First St. for CRISPR Therapeutics through its life-science arm Breakthrough Properties.
Representatives from Fort Point’s artist community and local elected officials, including Representative Stephen Lynch, were vocal in their support of the project, which includes a $3.7 million commitment to public art and artist workspaces embedded throughout. Lynch said the project “exceeds my hopes and expectations.” Related Beal had set “a new standard for commitment” to neighborhood residents, he said.
“We should require all projects of this size and impact to meet a similar standard,” Lynch said.
Because of the project’s proximity to the waterfront, Related Beal now needs a Chapter 91 license from the state before it can break ground. The site will be raised up to 6 feet in some places to help cope with sea level rise. Faber said the developer hasn’t yet decided whether it will start construction without a tenant pre-leased, which is fairly common for life science projects but less so for traditional office buildings.
The project was initially proposed before COVID-19, but its approval comes as demand for Boston’s office market is still struggling to recover to pre-pandemic levels, as employers grapple with hybrid work schedules. Faber said Related Beal understands that demand is shifting, but is bullish about the prospects for lab space, as well as the amenities Channelside will offer to future tenants.
“We do recognize that there is a change in the demand, particularly for office, but we also recognize that, as in any cyclical industry, there’s always a flight to quality,” Faber said.