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Government Center redevelopment approved

Boston regulators on Thursday approved a sweeping redevelopment of the Government Center Garage that will demolish one of the city’s most persistent eyesores to make way for a towering complex of offices, residences, and stores.

The massive development will reunite the city’s downtown and West End neighborhoods and bring hundreds of residents, shoppers, and daily office workers to a desolate stretch of Congress Street near City Hall. The project calls for six new buildings, including a 528-foot office tower that would be a new beacon on the skyline.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s board approved the master plan for the development Thursday night, but plans for each building still need final approval.


The developer, Thomas N. O’Brien, said he is hoping to start construction of the first residential building, a 480-foot apartment tower, by the end of next year.

“For the first time in 45 years,” he said, “people are going to want to be on this property to live, to shop, to eat in the restaurants, and to work in the buildings. It’s going to be a fundamental change in this part of the city.”

O’Brien is managing director of HYM Investment Group.

The project, among the largest pending in Boston, will remove the portion of the garage that straddles Congress Street, opening up nearly five acres for the new buildings and a retail plaza along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

In total, it would result in 812 new residences, 1.1 million square foot of office space, 196 hotel rooms, and several new stores and restaurants.

A long line of residents, ironworkers, and other union trades people spoke in favor of the project during Thursday’s meeting. No one spoke against it.

In the months leading up to the meeting, O’Brien, a former director of the BRA, had reduced the height of the main office tower from 600 feet to 528 feet to placate neighbors who had objected to the project’s large scale.


He also agreed to reduce the size of a hotel and condominium building along the Greenway from 275 feet to 157 feet.

Thursday night, several people lauded the developers for devising a proposal the public could rally around to help get rid of the garage.

“We have long been waiting for it to be removed,” said Robert O’Brien, executive director of the Downtown North Association, which represents West End businesses and property owners. “What has been a barrier for decades will be a new urban crossroads.”

The Government Center Garage was built in the 1960s as part of an urban renewal campaign that produced several Brutalist buildings in Boston that are often criticized as unsightly and inhuman in scale. The garage currently contains office space, small shops, and 2,300 parking spaces.

About half of those parking spaces will be removed as part of the redevelopment project, but the rest will remain in the portion of the garage that sits on the corner of Congress and New Chardon streets. Those remaining spaces will be hidden from view by the new office tower and the two residential buildings planned for the west side of Congress.

On the opposite side of the street, O’Brien plans to build three more buildings along the Greenway, with hotel rooms and condos, as well as retail and additional office space.

The project will be built in phases over several years, depending on the developer’s ability to attract tenants and lock down financing and permits for each building.


O’Brien’s plan is to start with the 480-foot apartment tower next year, then demolish the garage and proceed with the offices, condos, and stores.

His financial partners on the project include a national pension fund for electrical workers and Lewis Trust Group, a British investment firm.

The Government Center Garage redevelopment is one of several major proposals that could significantly reshape the West End in coming years.

Another developer is proposing to build a pair of massive buildings in front of TD Garden, and construction is underway on a new world headquarters for Converse Inc. at Lovejoy Wharf.

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