Wentworth Institute of Technology is trading in lacrosse balls for labs and soccer goals for centrifuges, with an ambitious plan to build a life sciences complex on the site of its main athletic field along Huntington Avenue.
The project’s development team, known as Huntington Development Group, filed detailed plans for the 640,000-square-foot, two-building complex with the Boston Planning & Development Agency on Monday. The $1 billion project, known as 500 Huntington, will include ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces and up to 410 underground parking spots.
For Wentworth, it marks the first piece of the university’s 30-plus acre campus to be put up for commercial development through a long-term ground lease. For Huntington, a group in which Black-owned businesses own half of the equity, the deal could be a launchpad for more work in a city where diversity is an increasingly important factor in development and permitting. And for the Longwood area, the project represents an opportunity to enliven a wind-swept stretch of Huntington Avenue across from the Museum of Fine Arts that is currently fenced off from the public.
The Huntington Development partnership consists of The Fallon Co., a developer best known for its work building out Fan Pier in the Seaport; Owens Companies, a commercial moving business and one of the oldest Black-owned companies in New England; and Waldwin Development, led by prominent Black businessman and Dunkin’ franchisee Clayton Turnbull.
“There’s a lot on the line and it’s not just money,” Turnbull said. “It will be a great thing for the city, and the neighborhoods.”
The 500 Huntington project is designed to be roughly the same size as an office complex that was approved for the site about a decade ago. Those plans eventually fell through, but Wentworth president Mark Thompson said he revived the idea of developing the field when he became president in 2019 after quickly realizing it wasn’t the best use of the high-profile three-acre site, considering its location on a busy thoroughfare next to the Green Line and a short walk from the heart of the Longwood medical and academic area. Wentworth plans to move the athletic facilities for softball, lacrosse, and soccer to a different site on nearby Parker Street, to be built above a new single-story parking structure.
Thompson put the Huntington Avenue property out to bid, and four development teams competed for the prize. Nearly one year ago, the college picked the Huntington Development partnership. It’s the first time Fallon, Owens, and Waldwin won a deal in the city together, although Fallon had already teamed up with Owens for a lab project in Charlestown. Fallon’s ties to Wentworth helped — chairman Joe Fallon got his bachelor’s degree there, and chief executive Michael Fallon received a master’s degree in construction management from the school. Thompson was also impressed with the diversity of the development team and its community ties.
“They were the most clear in terms of understanding the importance that we place on diversity, equity, and inclusion ... not only with the partnership itself, but also the [other] companies that will be involved in the design and development,” Thompson said. “I’m just really pleased to have partners who are going to create what I know is going to be a state-of-the-art facility. ... I’m really pleased about the value it will add for our students, and the community as well.”
The Huntington Development partners said their business relationship grew organically, through longstanding friendships, as opposed to a group assembled simply to take advantage of the heightened emphasis on diversity in Boston’s development sector. Examples of this include the “Massport Model” that rewards diverse teams bidding for public land; Harvard’s diversity priorities for its Allston development; and the BPDA’s recent decision to require diversity and inclusion plans for all major developments. “Our business is based upon relationships,” said Ed Owens Jr., president of the Owens Cos. “It just so happened that diversity happened as a result.”
Turnbull added that the mindset shift in Boston should help Huntington Development as it pursues approvals for this project and others. “We know ... this is a model that others would love to have,” Turnbull said.
The three partners are well aware of the industry concerns about a glut of lab construction in Boston. But Michael Fallon said he’s not worried, in part because of the property’s stellar location on a T line, near Longwood’s cluster of research hospitals and other academic institutions.
And they hope 500 Huntington is just the beginning of a long-running business relationship.
“I would be very surprised if we’re not announcing another project in the next year or two,” Michael Fallon said. “If you’re working with institutions [like Wentworth], that’s a great pedigree to have.”