Councilors clear way for Boston garage redevelopment
Plan would replace it with new skyscraper
Boston officials on Wednesday cleared the way for a squat municipal garage to become one of the city’s largest real estate developments.
The Boston City Council voted to transfer ownership of the Winthrop Square Garage to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which has eight big-name builders offering to turn the site, on Federal Street in the heart of the Financial District, into skyline-altering towers. Now the BRA will go back to the business of choosing one.
“We can really start to engage with development teams,” said BRA spokesman Nick Martin.
The move ends months of bureaucratic entanglements that have delayed the project, which has been a top priority of City Hall since then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino pitched it as a site for the city’s tallest skyscraper nearly a decade ago.
The garage — condemned and closed in May 2013 — was owned by the city of Boston, but the BRA, a separate quasi-public authority, needed control of it to designate a new developer. City Council members wanted assurances that proceeds from selling the site, which could be as much as $70 million, would flow into the city’s coffers, not the BRA’s.
After months of council hearings and closed-door talks, members were satisfied. They voted 10-3 on Wednesday to approve the sale.
“We are holding the BRA accountable,” said council member Sal LaMattina. “The city of Boston gets the proceeds.”
In the next few weeks, BRA staff will launch an internal review of the eight proposals they received earlier this year.
Some of Boston’s most prominent developers — including Joe Fallon, former BRA chief Tom O’Brien, and Steve Belkin, who proposed a 1,000-foot tower on the Winthrop site nearly a decade ago — are in the running. So are national builders including Lend Lease and Millennium Partners.
Their proposals vary, but include towers as high as 780 feet, with mixes of office space, condos and apartments, hotels, and retail. Many offer extra benefits, including a $25 million public school, space for community groups, and funding for affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
The agency will weigh those proposals, meet anew with developers after several quiet months, and perhaps ask some to hold public meetings about their proposals, said BRA chief of staff Heather Campisano.
The agency aims to select a developer next year, and then subject that proposal to the usual development review process required of any big development, which typically takes months and requires new rounds of community and public meetings.
The BRA wants to make sure that whatever replaces the Winthrop Square Garage is well-vetted and a top-quality development, Campisano said. But the agency also knows that the hot market that has developers so eager for the project won’t last forever.
“We want the review process to be thorough,” she said. “We don’t want it to be onerous.”