Proposed Financial District tower could alter Boston’s skyline
Entrepreneur Steve Belkin is resurrecting his plan to build one of Boston’s tallest buildings, a glass tower of up to 740 feet that would be a new centerpiece on the city’s rapidly changing skyline.
The building would occupy one of the last major development sites in the Financial District, replacing a decrepit city-owned parking garage at Winthrop Square with a skyscraper that could cost as much as $900 million to build.
Originally, Belkin proposed a 1,000-foot office tower that drew regulatory objections because it would have interfered with air traffic. He shelved the project during the economic downturn.
Now he is back with a scaled-down version, at least 260 feet shorter. The complex, called 111 Federal St., would contain a wider range of uses, including a 300-room hotel, retail space, offices, and possibly 150 condominiums on the upper floors.
In an interview with the Globe, Belkin said he had not decided whether to build the condominiums. Without them, the building would rise to 650 feet but still be the tallest building in the downtown area.
If built to 740 feet, the angular glass skyscraper would be Boston’s third-tallest, behind the 750-foot Prudential building and the 790-foot Hancock Tower, both in the Back Bay.
“Now is the time to build a project like this,” said Belkin, founder of Trans National Properties, which sells travel and tourism services. His company owns an office building next door at 133 Federal St. “I think it can really make a difference in Boston. Being an entrepreneur I love to create, and this is really creating something.”
Before work can proceed, Belkin must secure development rights to the property from the city. In 2006, then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino selected him to redevelop the property, but the project failed to attract enough tenants and funding amid the economic downturn.
On Tuesday, Belkin said he is negotiating a deal to buy the property from the city, a step in the process he failed to reach the last time. Approval is also needed from the Boston Redevelopment Authority for the new design and proposed uses for the property. The site currently hosts a 550-space parking garage that was closed in 2013 due to structural problems.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the city has allocated funds to keep the garage safe while it considers what to do with the property. “As a direct abutter to the garage, Mr. Belkin has a vested interest in its redevelopment, and we look forward to learning more about his proposal,” Kate Norton said. “We will work with city agencies to make sure there is a sufficient public process for what takes shape.”
Belkin’s revised proposal comes amid one of the most active periods of construction in the city’s history. Several developers are proposing dramatic skyscrapers. Donald Chiofaro, for example, wants to build a pair of towers at the site of the Harbor Garage, near the New England Aquarium. Richard Friedman has won approval for a 699-foot skyscraper at the edge of the Christian Science Plaza. And Millennium Partners is building a 625-foot condominium tower in Downtown Crossing.
Belkin’s building, if built to 740 feet, might become the biggest of the new generation of projects on the drawing board.
Unlike under the previous version of his plan, Belkin would not demolish the office building he owns at 133 Federal St. Instead, it would be combined with the new tower at ground level to create a 72,000-square-foot lobby with restaurants and shops.
Belkin said he hopes to start construction in the fall of 2015.
While his building would put a major new peak on the skyline, changes at street level would be equally dramatic, he said. His plan would replace the crumbling concrete garage with glass-walled storefronts and modern lobbies for the offices and a luxury hotel.
“The one thing that’s lacking in the area is activity on the ground level and connectivity, and that’s what this building does,” Belkin said. “It’s really not about height as much it was when it was 1,000 feet.”
A renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, developed the design concept for the building. Piano also designed the original 1,000-foot tower but parted ways with Belkin after a difference of opinion on the width of the floors in the building. CBT Architects of Boston is working to finalize the revised version of the building.
In coming weeks, Belkin said, he intends to hire a co- developer to help carry out the project, which would be one of only a few towers built in the densely packed Financial District since the 1980s.
In recent years, the arrival of technology companies, retailers, and restaurants has brought new life to the area, especially after dark. Belkin said he hopes to add to that activity with his hotel and at least one large restaurant.
Belkin said he is in talks with a major tenant to anchor the 900,000 square feet of office space in the tower. He declined to name the potential tenant but expressed optimism a deal can be reached soon.