In condo plan, a high style at street level
Pricey ‘little houses’ in South End to test appeal to buyers
As a rule of thumb, the most desirable condominiums are perched high in the sky, offering panoramic views and an elevator ride to the ground floor.
But a developer in the South End, emboldened by the city’s red-hot housing market, plans to bring the idea of luxury living down to earth. Condo buyers, meet the maisonette.
The company redeveloping the former Boston Herald headquarters wants to include several of the first-floor condos in a 79-unit building at the corner of Traveler and Albany streets. Maisonettes, French for “little houses,” are designed to combine the convenience of street-level living with high ceilings and private entrances to create a luxury condo setting.
The project’s maisonettes will feature 14- to 16-foot ceilings and generous amounts of glass to increase natural light. They will range in size from about 600 to 1,200 square feet, essentially creating a series of little glass houses along Traveler Street.
“It’s really taking what could be seen as the least attractive space in a building and making it the most attractive,” said Ted Tye, a managing partner at Newton-based National Development, which is developing the Herald site into a complex it calls the Ink Block.
Prices for the Ink Block maisonettes have not been set, but Tye said condos in the building will be offered for between $500,000 and $2 million.
Until recently, Traveler Street would have seemed an unappealing place for luxury buyers — or anyone else — to live in a little glass house. For decades, the short street has served as a pass through between gritty industrial properties along Interstate 93.
“If I’m a buyer, my questions are, ‘What is the foot traffic like and how much vehicle traffic am I going to have?’” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “This would certainly be a new offering for a neighborhood that is still in the process of being reborn.”
National Development is optimistic that the rebirth will proceed fast enough to make maisonette units an appealing option.
The Ink Block itself features hundreds of new apartments, a large Whole Foods Market, and several spaces for restaurants. Across the street, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is constructing a 6-acre park under an elevated section of the interstate, and another developer is building hundreds of apartments on the property that would face the maisonettes on Traveler Street.
Tye said the new condo building at Traveler and Albany, to be named Siena, will feature a rooftop lounge as well as trees and other landscaping to create a buffer between the ground-floor units and the street.
“It’s not for everybody,” Tye said of the maisonette condos. “But a lot of people like the idea of first-floor living with direct access to the outside.”
Maisonettes have recently gained popularity in New York City, where developers are building them in place of dentist offices and other professional spaces because high-end condos on the ground floor can command higher prices.
Some first-floor units in New York City are selling for nearly $3 million, almost equal to the prices of penthouses in the same building.
National Development hopes to start building the condos this year, along with a 200-room AC Hotel by Marriott on Albany Street. Both projects need approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Real estate specialists say maisonette condos are seldom built new in Boston, but some have been added through renovations of smaller buildings.
Their appeal is not as broad as that of traditional units because of their proximity to the street. But those homes typically come with private outdoor spaces and entrances that are hard to find in city locations.
“If it has higher ceilings and more glass, I think it will be well received,” said Dave Stenberg, manager of the Boston office of Hammond Residential. “The urban lifestyle has never been more popular for people of all ages.”
Demand for new condos in Boston is at a historic high, as people move into the city to be closer to jobs and entertainment.
As of March 31, only 102 condos and single-family homes were available for sale in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and South End, down from 548 at the weakest point in the market in 2009, according to LINK Boston, a real estate research firm.
The lack of supply has sent prices soaring. In the South End neighborhood around the Ink Block, the average price jumped to $957,000 in the first three months of the year. That represents an increase of 15.5 percent in two years.
“The market is still humming and desiring new product,’’ said Sue Hawkes, chief executive of the Collaborative Companies, the real estate firm that is marketing the residences at the Ink Block.
She noted that some people questioned the wisdom of building any condominiums at the Ink Block. But the project’s first building, named Sepia, has already sold all but two of its 83 units. The building is set to be completed in the fall.
The maisonettes, she said, will be an attractive alternative for buyers who are not crazy about the idea of living high up in a building but still want a new unit.
“It will make the building feel culturally more like a neighborhood,” she said. “I think it’s going to start a trend.”