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Fenway Center developer in new partnership talks

A view of the east side of the proposed Fenway Center. The project calls for the construction of five buildings on 4.5 acres of land and air rights over the Turnpike. (The Architectual Team)
The Architectural Team rendering
A view of the east side of the proposed Fenway Center. The project calls for the construction of five buildings on 4.5 acres of land and air rights over the Turnpike.

The developer of the long-stalled Fenway Center project is negotiating a partnership with a prominent West Coast real estate firm whose involvement could finally jump-start construction of the $550 million complex.

Gerding Edlen, a company based in Portland, Ore., is in talks to join developer John Rosenthal in building hundreds of homes, offices, and stores on state-owned property that straddles the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park.

If finalized, the deal would be a big step in the right direction for the seemingly star-crossed development. Fenway Center is among the most ambitious projects in Boston, but it has faced repeated bureaucratic snags and funding troubles, despite $4.6 million in property tax breaks from the city.

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Most recently, delays caused the project to lose financial backing from the pension fund investor Bentall Kennedy, which pulled out earlier this year. Rosenthal, who never developed a major project in the city, has been searching for a new partner for several months.

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Gerding Edlen is already building hundreds of apartments in neighborhoods across Boston. It developed the 315 on A apartment tower in the Fort Point Channel and is building 380 apartments on Albany Street in the South End. Earlier this week, it broke ground on yet another apartment and retail complex on the East Boston waterfront.

Executives with the company could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Rosenthal said he hoped to finalize a codevelopment deal with Gerding Edlen this month and start construction by next summer.

“This is going to create a whole new neighborhood out of ugly parking lots and windswept bridges,” Rosenthal said. “We’re fully permitted and approved, and with Gerding Edlen we will start by mid-2015 on the first air-rights project in Boston since Copley Place.”

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Fenway Center calls for the construction of five buildings on 4.5 acres of land and air rights over the Turnpike. The 1.3 million-square-foot complex would contain about 550 homes, 80,000 square feet of stores and restaurants, and 167,000 square feet of office space. Multiple garages, including one straddling the Turnpike, will contain space for 1,290 cars. A revamped Yawkey commuter rail station has already opened at the edge of the property.

Initially, all of the residences in the complex were planned to be apartments, but Rosenthal said some could be converted to condominiums. The Boston condo market is hotter than it has been in decades, with a combination of high demand and low supply causing prices to soar.

Even with Gerding Edlen’s involvement, Fenway Center would still face many challenges. The partnership must nail down additional investors and financing and obtain government approval for any changes in its development components.

However, it has already received major city and state approvals, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently extended a development agreement with Rosenthal through the end of 2015.

“This project has the potential to reshape the Fenway, and the city — through tax relief — has a stake in its success,” said Kate Norton, spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “We look forward to seeing how this complex development comes together.”

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The project is particularly complicated because it requires construction of a $65 million deck over the Turnpike to support its main parking garage and a 27-story office and residential tower.

Similar air rights projects have failed in recent decades, including the massive Columbus Center project, which fell apart amid the economic slowdown in late 2007. But several other projects over the Turnpike are now in various stages of planning.

Gerding Edlen has not completed any projects of Fenway Center’s magnitude in Boston, but it has developed several large complexes on the West Coast. In Portland, Ore., it built the Brewery Blocks, a 1.5 million-square-foot neighborhood of homes, stores, and offices in the city’s downtown. It also developed a similar condominium and retail project called South Park in Los Angeles.

After its completion, Fenway Center is expected to generate about $5.7 million a year in tax revenue. The developer would also pay the state $226 million to lease the 4.5-acre development site over 99 years.

Currently, the property generates about $152,000 a year for city coffers.

“There’s nothing easy about air-rights development,” Rosenthal said. “But I really believe that with the completion of Yawkey Station this will be a premier model for transit-oriented development in Boston.”

31rosenthal - The $500 million Fenway Center project would include five new buildings with apartments, offices, stores and a parking garage on property near the historic ballpark. A new commuter rail station is already under construction on the site, but its developer says tax assistance is needed to proceed with the rest of the work. (The Architecture Team)
The Architectural Team rendering
The 1.3 million-square-foot complex would contain about 550 homes, 80,000 square feet of stores and restaurants, and 167,000 square feet of office space.

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