The announcement in July 2022 that a key portion of the Government Center Garage would come down by Labor Day came with an asterisk.
“Date subject to change,” the developer of the garage site cautioned.
And change it did. It’s almost September 2023. Jagged chunks of garage infrastructure still pierce the sky. The stretch of Congress Street running below the site is still closed, severing an important connection to North Station and the Central Artery Tunnel.
The developer, HYM Investment Group, is 58 weeks and counting into what was supposed to be an eight-week road closure, an essential stage of a more than decadelong, multibillion-dollar development that, after some initial wins, has been plagued by delays and beset by tragedy. As another Labor Day approaches, about 30 percent of the garage is still left to come down. While demolition has notably accelerated of late — about 10 percent of the garage has come down in the past two months — the ongoing delays have left many frustrated.
“Our patience is well beyond the expiration date on seeing this demolition come to fruition,” said state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, in whose district the garage sits. “It certainly has had a drastic and negative impact on the surrounding community.”
The Brutalist concrete garage rose in the 1960s, a marker — like City Hall nearby — of the urban renewal movement that transformed downtown Boston. The garage was nine stories tall, had space for 2,300 cars, and spread across five acres, separating Beacon Hill, the Bulfinch Triangle, and the North End for more than half a century.
Developers first pursued a major mixed-use redevelopment there in 2008, but it fell through. HYM tried again in 2011, and won city approval four and half years later to transform the uninviting block of concrete into a collection of glassy office and residential towers straddling a newly “daylit” Congress Street. Initial work on the complex, multiphase project began in late 2015.
Today there are two new towers atop the partially demolished garage on the west side of Congress Street: The Sudbury — a high-end residential building that opened in 2020 — and One Congress — a just-opened office tower that will be home to the headquarters of State Street Corp. and InterSystems. In early 2022, crews began taking down the garage’s eastern portion, over and across Congress Street, to make way for the rest of the project.
It’s complicated work, demolishing and removing tons upon tons of concrete in a busy patch of the city — all while keeping the garage open and usable — made even trickier by the presence of the Haymarket MBTA station beneath the site.
HYM and the MBTA reached a memorandum of understanding in 2017, outlining how the transit agency must sign off on demolition and construction work that will affect any transportation operations or Haymarket Station, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
“The MBTA may withhold its consent to the plans and specifications if in the MBTA’s sole judgment the plans are not consistent with MBTA standards or legal requirements or would reduce the safety, efficiency and convenience of such MBTA operations,” the memorandum states.
That meant demolition could occur only when the MBTA gave the go-ahead. When work began last year, the MBTA did not allow demolition work above Haymarket Station when the station was in use during the day — effectively limiting work to a few hours in the middle of the night, Michlewitz said.
The work irritated neighbors. Constituents would send Michlewitz video messages protesting the late-night noise, prompting him in early March 2022 to send a letter to city officials citing “continuous overnight jackhammering” that “caused turmoil” for many residents, and asking the city to curtail overnight construction permits.
“The failure of the MBTA to provide a reasonable and consistent diversion plan, to allow daytime demolition, has (exacerbated) the situation,” Michlewitz wrote. “The need for demolition to only take place while the MBTA is not operational is perfectly understandable for an area that is not densely populated. However, since 2013 this area has evolved into a diverse neighborhood in which many residents now reside, and it is my belief that a new construction plan which takes their quality-of-life concerns into effect is needed immediately.”
A few weeks later, tragedy struck. Demolition worker Peter Monsini fell to his death while working at the garage on a Saturday evening — his first day on the job. Monsini’s estate later filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and federal safety regulators proposed a $1.2 million fine for the Brockton demolition company that employed him. JDC Demolition Co. is contesting the citations, and John Moriarty & Associates, the project’s general contractor, is appealing its $58,008 fine and citations as well.
Work stopped for four months for federal and local investigators to comb through the half-demolished garage, preserving debris from the accident and ensuring the facility’s structural integrity. In the process, crews discovered a water-damaged garage support column in a tunnel near Haymarket Station, prompting an immediate shutdown of the Orange and Green lines for several days last June.
HYM was on the hook to cover replacement shuttle service and other expenses, and the demolition’s progress was again slowed.
“This incident, and the related investigations, resulted in delays to the garage demolition, and, unfortunately, has significantly impacted the MBTA, its riders and the residents of Boston,” the development team wrote in a statement.
In a statement, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the agency puts the safety of T riders and employees first.
“The MBTA appreciates the patience of riders during the private firm’s project and looks forward to no longer interrupting service to accommodate the private developer’s work,” Pesaturo said.
In the year since work restarted at the garage, service disruptions at Haymarket have become somewhat routine, as transit officials have planned diversions to allow for more daytime demolition hours. HYM has paid the MBTA $5.7 million for shuttle buses, support staff, and other costs, according to a financial record obtained by the Globe through a public records request. There was $2.2 million more in costs directly related to the accident in March 2022, the record shows.
Last year, amid the support beam crisis, HYM and the MBTA laid blame at each other’s door. Lately, though, the developer touted its “strong working relationships” with Governor Maura Healey’s administration and new MBTA general manager Philip Eng.
“We are working in close partnership with the city and state as our team continues to deconstruct the Government Center Garage as safely and efficiently as possible,” said HYM founder Thomas N. O’Brien in a statement. “We are looking forward to the continued demolition and are pleased with the substantial advances we have been able to make over the past few months.”
In Michlewitz’s view, the MBTA did not prioritize rapid progress on the garage’s demolition, and missed an opportunity to move things forward during the monthlong Orange Line shutdown last year. But he gives Eng credit for allowing work to move more quickly in recent months.
“I feel the previous administration really did not take the timing mechanism of this as seriously as they should have done,” Michlewitz said. “The new administration has certainly seen the light on why this needed to come down as soon as possible.”
As for when that might actually happen, HYM now says demolition of the garage should be “substantially complete” by early next year, at which point they will start work on a 12-story life-science building along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.
State Street has started moving into the One Congress tower. What’s left of the garage gets smaller by the week. And as for reopening Congress Street, HYM now says that’s expected “as soon as possible.”