Merchants and businesses in Boston’s Downtown Crossing are feeling optimistic about the redevelopment of the shopping district now that the Filene’s project appears to be back on track with a 600-foot skyscraper.
A forum at Suffolk University met Wednesday to discuss the future of Downtown Crossing, just two days after Millennium Partners revealed detailed plans for the Filene’s block at One Franklin Street that will include a slender glass tower and some 500 residences.
Legal Sea Foods president Roger Berkowitz said the addition of so much housing will liven the district.
“Now you start to bring in residential, which gives it more of the 24/7 scenario. It’s not 6 o'clock and everyone is leaving. So now that we have a residential mix, it’s much more exciting,” said Berkowitz, a member of a panel that presented at the forum, which was cosponsored by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.
The featured speaker was prominent Boston architect Howard Elkus, who said the community now needs to decide what other development is necessary to make Downtown Crossing a thriving district.
“At this moment of unprecedented return to city living, what is the vision, what is the big idea for the historic heart of Boston?” asked Elkus, principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects.
His own answers include a supermarket, more retail spaces, and more utilitarian shops like dry cleaners and cobblers.
Mike Tesler, founder of Hingham consulting firm Retail Concepts, suggested one way to innovate with food would be to encourage more food trucks to set up in the area.
“I see a food truck line from South Station to Macy’s,” he said.
Yet Downtown Crossing still suffers from an image problem, with many seeing the neighborhood as unsafe, despite the fact that city statistics show crime there is relatively low.
“I’m not sure, at least from a perception standpoint, that people at nighttime, particularly, see this as being the safest neighborhood,” Berkowitz said.
Randi Lathrop , deputy director of community planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said the city wants more commuters to stay after work and add more life to the area at night.
“You have over 200,000 people working down here, so the whole idea is trying to get those folks to stay down here after work,” she said.
Kathy Taylor, a teacher from Newton who attended the meeting, wants to see a more permanent monument or attraction to anchor Downtown Crossing.
“We need something iconic, something stationary,” she said. “Restaurants and stores, it can’t keep changing, that won’t help you brand the city. We need something to bring people in.”Gail Waterhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.