Skyscraper envisioned at Back Bay station
Developer would manage T facility in return for rights
The owner of the John Hancock Tower in Boston is negotiating with Governor Deval Patrick’s administration to renovate and manage the MBTA’s Back Bay Station in exchange for the right to build a towering complex of residences, stores, and offices, state officials said Tuesday.
A deal could eventually allow developer Boston Properties Inc. to construct a skyscraper and at least one other building above the rehabilitated station, which would get a new retail arcade, ventilation upgrades, and a glass facade along Dartmouth Street. City officials would also have to approve the new buildings.
The lease would be the latest of several agreements that have effectively privatized the management of the city’s largest transit hubs. South Station and North Station are both managed by private landlords who have funded multimillion-dollar upgrades in recent years.
“This is the third leg in the transformation of Boston’s major railroad stations,” said Jeffrey Simon, chief of real estate for the state Transportation Department.
Boston Properties senior vice president Bryan Koop said in a statement Tuesday that its restoration of the Back Bay station would “revitalize and activate this gateway to Boston for the benefit of residents, commuters, and visitors.”
Originally built in the 1980s, Back Bay Station is among the busiest in the city, serving tens of thousands of passengers on Amtrak, commuter rails, and the MBTA’s Orange Line. The station, which has not been significantly renovated since its construction, suffers from poor ventilation and a variety of maintenance problems.
The full-scale restoration by Boston Properties, expected to cost at least $25 million, would not begin until fall 2015, but smaller upgrades could start within months. Simon is expected to outline the framework of the deal at a board meeting of the Massachusetts Transportation Department scheduled for Wednesday. Once the final details are negotiated, the board would be asked to vote on the deal later this year.
Simon said Boston Properties, known for dramatically improving shopping options at the Prudential Center, would build a retail arcade extending through Back Bay Station between Clarendon and Dartmouth streets.
The gray, recessed facade along Dartmouth would be pulled out to the sidewalk and encased in glass to create better retail storefronts. The interior station would receive a complete overhaul, restoring soot-covered architectural details and removing its old cages and turnstiles.
“We’re really taking a fresh look at the entire layout and creating a first-rate retail experience for the traveling public,” Simon said. “It’s going to take what is essentially a very gray, dark building and add a whole lot more light and air.”
Boston Properties, among the city’s largest and most influential landlords, declined to elaborate on its private development plans for the skyscrapers it envisions on the property. Company executives have been exploring development options in the area since it purchased the Hancock Tower and its adjacent parking garage for $930 million in 2010.
Back Bay Station sits adjacent to the garage, so the deal with the Transportation Department would allow it to expand its footprint to construct multiple buildings in what is currently a dark corner of the neighborhood.
In addition to the Hancock, Boston Properties owns the Prudential Building and the crown-shaped tower at 111 Huntington Ave., and several other large commercial properties in Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding communities. It is working with Delaware North Cos., the owner of the TD Garden, on plans to build a towering, multitiered complex of buildings next to the Garden at North Station.
The exact size and design of any new buildings at Back Bay Station has yet to be determined.
But at least one would be a high-rise that could significantly alter the city’s skyline. Other low to midrise buildings could be included in the project, significantly changing the corner of Clarendon and Stuart streets, and a large stretch of Dartmouth Street.
Any new buildings would need to be approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. It would probably take several years to begin construction, due to the complications and high cost of building new structures above the Mass. Turnpike and multiple rail lines.
Several other projects over the turnpike — involving what are known as “air rights” — have faltered in recent years, most notably the $800 million Columbus Center project that fell apart amid the economic downturn in 2007.
Simon said negotiations on the Back Bay Station project started several months ago when Boston Properties approached the state about altering its existing lease, to build a large mixed-use project on the property with residences, stores, and office space.
Currently, the company has 54 years remaining on a lease with the state for the Hancock garage, which sits on air rights above the turnpike.
Simon said Boston Properties would make advance payments on that lease, combined with a large option payment, to fund the restoration of Back Bay Station.