Another large residential project possibly coming to South End
The South End is sprouting a skyline.
Leggat McCall Properties filed plans Thursday to build about 700 apartments on Albany Street, a project that would be the biggest in a wave of development transforming a neighborhood that serves as the southern approach to downtown.
In a letter of intent to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the company sketched out its proposal for two buildings ranging up to 19 stories with street-level stores and a park between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street, blocks from Boston Medical Center.
If approved, it would be the latest project to spring up along Harrison, turning a low-slung industrial neighborhood into one of Boston’s hottest markets for high-end housing.
“There are a lot of buildings coming there and a lot more that could come, depending on owners’ appetite and timing,” said Sue Hawkes, a consultant who works on condominium and apartment projects. “It’s easily one of the busiest stretches of development in the city.”
The property, today mostly parking lots and small office buildings, was bought last year from Boston Medical Center, along with a neighboring office building.
“This is an opportunity to take an underused site and create a substantial residential presence there,” said Bill Gause, an executive vice president at Leggat. “It’ll create a lot of vibrancy.”
Builders have been drawn to the area because it’s close to downtown and the Back Bay. Development got a boost from a 2012 rezoning that enabled taller buildings along Harrison and Albany.
A few blocks up Harrison Avenue from Leggat’s project site are the recently opened Ink Block, with 315 units spread across three buildings, and the Troy, a 19-story complex with 378 apartments. There’s a 160-unit building under construction at 600 Harrison, and site work has begun on a 602-unit complex farther north, near the Massachusetts Turnpike.
In between are brick warehouses and old industrial buildings that have been converted to lofts, boutiques, and swanky restaurants. On many Sundays, thousands of people flock to the weekly South End Open Market.
And more is coming.
The developer Related Beal has an agreement to buy the site of Quinzani’s Bakery, a key parcel at the corner of Harrison Avenue and East Berkeley Street. Across Albany from Leggat’s property, the 5.6-acre site of the Boston Flower Exchange is reportedly near a sale for more than $40 million, although no buyer has been disclosed.
Leggat, which has worked as a consultant on major Boston projects and redeveloped the former Necco factory in Cambridge as housing, is partnering in the South End with a real estate investment firm, Multi-Employer Property Trust.
On Leggat’s 2.5-acre site, which is nearly an entire city block, the development firm plans to put “approximately 700 apartments” — mostly studios and one-bedrooms, Gause said — in a pair of buildings that will range from 11 to 19 stories high.
That’s tall for the South End, said George Stergios, president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association, which got a briefing from Gause this year. But, he said, many of his neighbors are open to the development as long as it’s designed to minimize shadows, as promised. And it’s easily an improvement over what’s there now.
“We’d rather have that than a parking lot,” Stergios said. “It’s good for the city. It’s good for us. Everyone’s done well in this market.”
The apartments won’t come cheap. One-fifth — as many as 140 units — will be set at rents affordable to low- and middle-income tenants, as dictated by zoning in the area, though some of those may be off-site. The rest will be priced at rents comparable to those in other new buildings nearby, Gause said. Studios at the Troy, for example, run between about $2,600 and $3,000 a month.
Gause predicts strong demand for the units, in part because of the proximity to Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine. The company plans to build in two phases — a 400-unit building first, then a 300-unit building — as a hedge in case the rental market softens.
Leggat plans to rehab one building on the site, at 575 Albany, and demolish three smaller buildings on East Dedham and East Canton streets. It expects to file more-detailed plans within a few months and begin the approval process, which includes community meetings and design reviews. Gause hopes to start construction within 15 months.
For Ted Pietras, a veteran real estate agent active in the South End Business Association, all the development has been something to behold. He questions whether landlords will find enough tenants who can afford to rent the thousands of units coming to the South End.
Pietras strikes a philosophical tone about the changes sweeping the neighborhood, where he has lived for 35 years.
“It’s like being a surfer. You just go with the flow,” he said. “I mean, there’s not much you can do about it.”