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Makeover plan at Faneuil Hall Marketplace

A hotel, changes in retail, dining

The plan calls for giving the food court a more open floor plan.
The plan calls for giving the food court a more open floor plan.Elkus Manfredi Architects

The operator of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, one of Boston’s most visited yet dated landmarks, is proposing a dramatic overhaul of the historic property that would create a new boutique hotel and shake up a shopping experience that has changed little since the 1970s.

The plan, from Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., is designed to bring Boston residents back to a central retail district that remains popular with millions of tourists but has lost much of its appeal for locals.

The company’s proposal would turn the marketplace’s crowded central food court into more open retail spaces, bars, and sit-down restaurants. It would add several glass pavilions for shopping and dining, and the South Market building would get a 180-room hotel.

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Many of the changes, described to the Globe in interviews Tuesday, could be in place as soon as next summer, pending regulators’ approval.

“We want to create an environment that’s active 12 months a year,” said Barry Lustig, an Ashkenazy vice president. “Our intent is to make this a relevant property to the people of Boston, where families and couples can be in the kind of space you can’t find anywhere else.”

Renovation plans for the city-owned market, one of the most familiar and historic gathering places in Boston, need approval from the Landmarks Commission and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the plans are “a good first step” and that the city would “continue the conversation” with the developer and the marketplace’s vendors.

Faneuil Hall is steeped in history, which helps make it one of the world’s most visited sites. It served as a rallying point for the American Revolution, and the three buildings constructed near it — Quincy Market, South Market, and North Market — have become a hub of commerce and culture that attracts more than 20 million visitors a year. The market, established in 1742, currently hosts more than 70 vendors.

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The property has been managed in recent decades by a succession of private companies. Ashkenazy bought a ground lease to operate the market in 2011 and has been working on a renovation plan for nearly three years.

A big priority is to ease congestion in the food court.
A big priority is to ease congestion in the food court.BRIAN FEULNER FOR THE GLOBE

The head of Faneuil Hall’s merchants association, Carol Troxell, said she hoped that any changes would not cause vendors to be displaced from the market.

“The local merchants welcome modern upgrades to the property; we just want to be part of the marketplace,” she said. “We recognize that it has to be a mix of vendors. But it’s a local market, and we want it to be primarily local Boston and New England merchants.”

Troxell said merchants are worried about rent increases and whether they will be able to afford rents in the upgraded property. Ashkenazy has said its plan will cost tens of millions of dollars, but its executives declined to be more specific.

Lustig said the company intends to retain the vast majority of the current vendors, but acknowledged some will be replaced and others will be moved to new locations in the complex.

“The pushcarts and the food vendors that are truly unique to Boston are going to absolutely be part of the future evolution of this property,” Lustig said. “There are some who are selling goods that are not really Boston, and that’s a little different.”

Ashkenazy’s overhaul of the property would bring the first major changes since the 1970s, when the buildings were renovated into a so-called festival marketplace. Though it has remained a popular tourist destination, the area lacks the dining and retail options popular with local residents.

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Lustig said the company intends to add several restaurants and stores in coming years. He declined to name any but promised a mix of national brands and local entrepreneurs.

The Quincy Market Colonnade, a food court that includes local and national vendors, would be transformed into an open-concept space. Instead of the current jam-packed corridor, open bars and eateries would fill the center of the walkway, surrounded by food counters with additional seating along the windows and a few narrow counters lining the walls.

The ends of the colonnade would include new retail shops, while the rotunda in the center would have additional seating during the day and an area for live performances at night.

The renovation plans would also modernize the market’s architecture and outdoor spaces. The proposal calls for outdoor spaces to be used for yoga classes and set up with table tennis stations and chess boards.

Ashkenazy devised its plan with help from a prominent Boston firm, Elkus Manfredi Architects, and designer Dan Biederman, who spearheaded the successful revitalization of New York City’s Bryant Park, next to the New York Public Library’s main building.

The plan calls for the market’s uneven brick walkways to be replaced by smoother stone paths. New patios could host small music concerts and give visitors more comfortable places to relax outdoors.

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A glass pavilion that may house a retailer would replace a greenhouse-like structure at the edge of the complex. It’s designed not to complete with the historic buildings’ grandeur.
A glass pavilion that may house a retailer would replace a greenhouse-like structure at the edge of the complex. It’s designed not to complete with the historic buildings’ grandeur.Elkus Manfredi Architects

Digital kiosks would also be added to direct people to historic sites and shopping options. Plans call for the tinted glass windows that line the Quincy Market building to be replaced with clear glass. And many of the area’s dying honey locust trees would be replaced.

Another distinctive addition would be a new glass retail pavilion next to Faneuil Hall. The leaf-shaped pavilion, designed by Howard Elkus, is planned to replace the current glass greenhouse-like structure, which over the years has housed a flower market and several other vendors.

Elkus said that the pavilion, which is expected to house a new retail store, was designed to be a light touch at the property edge’s that would not distract from the historic grandeur of Faneuil Hall.

“We want to create something transparent that floats in the space and is not hard edged,” said Elkus, a principal of Elkus Manfredi. “The intention is more for you to see through it than look at it.”

Ashkenazy’s executives said that other glass pavilions would be added outside the Ames Plow and Salty Dog restaurants. Those pavilions would be fitted with retractable roofs and large windows so they could be open in summer but closed and fully heated during the winter.


Globe correspondent Taryn Luna contributed to this report. Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.