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West Coast firm takes on Fort Point

Developer with experience in transformation will build 20-story tower

The 319 A St. project is similar to a Gerding Edlen project in Portland, Ore., where it redeveloped five blocks of brewery buildings (above). Gerding Edlen Cos.

The West Coast development firm Gerding Edlen Cos. believes something transformational is happening in American cities.

It views the nation’s urban centers as places to live - not just work - and asserts that a large part of the population is dropping the dream of the suburban picket fence to buy or rent homes on streets bustling with stores, restaurants, and people.

After building large projects based on that idea in Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, and other cities, Gerding Edlen is undertaking a similar development in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, where it plans to begin construction next spring on a 20-story tower at 319 A St. that will be the tallest building in the former industrial district.


“We see this area as a unique place where art, creativity, and innovation all collide,’’ said Kelly Saito, president of Portland-based Gerding Edlen. “That makes for a very rich neighborhood in our mind.’’

The firm, which markets itself as a builder of environmentally sensitive developments, was brought in to develop the project recently by Archon Group LP, an affiliate of Goldman Sachs Group. Archon obtained city permits last year to demolish a warehouse on the property and build a tower with apartments and four levels of parking. The project also involves renovation of an adjacent warehouse at 63 Melcher St. that will contain artist live-work spaces, loft-style apartments, and so called innovation units - compact apartments built around common work areas and other shared community spaces.

Saito said Gerding Edlen is planning to make only minor alterations to the Archon plan. It will cut the height of the tower, designed by local architects ADD Inc., by one floor and will build more apartments, bringing the total units to around 200. The Melcher Street project will also remain largely the same, with five affordable artist live-work units, six lofts, and 27 innovation units.


The development is part of a wave of apartment construction sweeping through Boston, with more than 850 units under development, and hundreds more planned for neighborhoods from Fenway to the Back Bay, Chinatown to Allston.

Fort Point is one of the hottest areas in the city for redevelopment. The district has begun to transform in recent years as developers have turned old Boston Wharf Co. warehouses into new offices, residences, and retail stores. Those include the FP3, a condominium and restaurant complex on Congress Street, and Channel Center, a cluster of warehouses redeveloped into condominiums, offices, and retail stores.

Fort Point was recently marked a historic area, due to its collection of industrial buildings that once served as the commercial epicenter of the city. Some residents have raised concerns that recent development activity is undermining the character of the district, worsening parking problems, and failing to add enough open spaces. Others have complained that the process for considering the projects is disjointed, with developers allowed to abruptly shift their plans to suit market conditions of the moment.

But Kairos Shen, chief planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said the city’s overarching goal has been to preserve the area’s history while encouraging redevelopments that will result in attractive new restaurants, stores, and homes.

“What we want is to maintain the same character but bring much more street life,’’ Shen said. “One of the things we see a great demand for is housing that will result in more foot traffic at all times of the day.’’


The project at 319 A St. is similar to developments Gerding Edlen has done in Portland. The company redeveloped five blocks of former brewery buildings in that city’s downtown into a mixed-use neighborhood with hundreds of homes, restaurants, a Whole Foods supermarket, and other amenities.

Saito, the Gerding Edlen president, said he hopes the Fort Point project will appeal to a younger demographic that he says is drawn to city living because of its proximity to cultural resources, dining options, and entrepreneurial companies.

“This generation is more apt to look at the place they live as something greater than the boundaries of their walls,’’ he said. “They think of their homes as the neighborhood they live in more generally.’’

The firm’s philosophy is reflected in its floor plans at 319 A St., where it would make the living units smaller than those in the previous plan. Gerding Edlen will build 42 studios, up from 13 in the original proposal.

It will also build 117 one-bedroom and 43 two-bedroom units, with 22 of them to be designated affordable, according to a recent city filing.

Rental rates have not yet been determined.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.