New complex proposed over Back Bay Station
Another big tower may be headed for the Back Bay.
Developer Boston Properties this week filed notice with the city that it wants to build a 1.4 million-square-foot complex of office space, housing, and retail above Back Bay Station between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets. While details such as the project’s height are still being finalized, any development of that size would mark the city’s skyline alongside the John Hancock Tower, Prudential Center, and a new generation of towers that have been proposed but not yet built.
A half-century ago, city planners envisioned a so-called “high spine” of towers stretching along Huntington Ave. and Stuart Street, from Massachusetts Ave. toward downtown. Only a few were built, the biggest among them the Prudential and John Hancock.
But the city’s current development boom has revived plans for more, from the 61-story One Dalton near the Christian Science Plaza, which began construction this year, to Simon Properties’ plan to put a 47-story tower above Copley Place. Last month, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved a 26-story office tower for John Hancock on Stuart Street.
A Boston Properties spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday, but the company said in its letter to the BRA that it will file more detailed plans within a few months. It aims to build atop Back Bay Station and a neighboring parking garage it owns at 165 Dartmouth that runs the length of the block to Clarendon Street.
Boston Properties said it plans “a transit-oriented development which will integrate the project, the garage, and the station into the Back Bay and surrounding neighborhoods,” according to its letter.
The development giant, which owns both the John Hancock Tower and Prudential Center and is building a 17-story office building at 888 Boylston St., is a good choice for the site, said Meg Mainzer-Cohen, executive director of the Back Bay Association business group.
“They know the neighborhood. They have a lot of experience here,” she said. “They will do it right.”
Boston Properties will need to win community approval, the lack of which has slowed other projects nearby.
In October, the BRA approved new zoning guidelines for the area that allow building up to 400 feet, though Back Bay Station sits within a special zoning district that would allow Boston Properties to build higher. That could prove necessary for the project to be economically feasible, Mainzer-Cohen said. And, she noted, in a corridor where the city has been planning big development for decades, some extra height would be appropriate.
“It’s really the vision they had back in the 1960s,” she said. “They limited development in the South End, Back Bay, Beacon Hill. But they earmarked the high spine along Stuart Street for where we will have development.”
Boston Properties began negotiating a year and a half ago with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for development rights over the station.
In exchange the developer agreed to make $32 million in upgrades to the aging facility, and to manage retail operations inside the Back Bay Station concourse —one of a growing number of deals to privatize rail stations in Boston and use new development to finance transit improvements.
Work on those improvements has begun, but not without hiccups. Earlier this year the state agreed to cover some cost overruns and budget shortfalls at the Back Bay Station renovation.
The development itself also still needs some state approvals. And Tuesday’s filing will launch the city’s review process, which likely will last several months and include a variety of community meetings. By filing before the end of the year, Boston Properties will skirt new, larger, affordable-housing requirements that will take effect on new large developments proposed after Jan. 1, though it was unclear if that was a factor in the company’s timing.