The South Station tower plan lives . . . again
A new investor and an impending deadline are combining to kick-start a long-stalled tower proposed for above South Station.
The Houston developer Hines is preparing to go before the Boston Redevelopment Authority as soon as next week for permission to bring in a new financial backer for a proposed 49-story office and condo development above Boston’s biggest train station, according to city and state officials
The investor, which Hines would not identify, could be the key to reviving a complex project that started taking shape 25 years ago but has been dormant since 2009. Hines also faces the expiration of its development rights for the site in April 2017.
A spokeswoman declined to comment. But a recent update of Hines’s website, which calls the project “a future landmark in Boston,” says the company plans to start construction in 2017.
Hines’s latest efforts on the project were first reported by the Boston Business Journal and Banker & Tradesman.
The developer has been meeting regularly with staff members of the BRA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about the project, which would be along Atlantic Avenue between the station’s main entrance and the bus terminal, with the tower rising above the tracks.
Hines currently has approval for a 1.9 million-square-foot development, with an office tower of up to 677 feet and smaller buildings for a hotel and housing. However, the developer has been tweaking its plans for what the tower might hold, city officials said, and is considering including more housing and less office space.
Any major changes would need to be filed with the BRA and would be subject to public hearings and community meetings before approval, BRA spokesman Nick Martin said.
MassDOT also would need to sign off on any new plan and its financing, as would Amtrak and South Station’s real estate manager, said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the state transportation agency.
“At this time, MassDOT and Hines continue to have active discussions on aspects of this proposed project,” she said, adding that if the development agreement expires, MassDOT could either extend it or select a new developer.
Then there’s the question of how the development would affect the planned expansion of tracks and capacity at South Station, which is stalled while the state negotiates with the Postal Service about moving its adjacent facility along Fort Point Channel.
“There are a lot of moving parts to all of this,” Goddard said.
The tower has been a quarter-century in the making.
In 1991, the BRA chose the real estate arm of Tufts University to develop the air rights above South Station, and in 1997 Tufts brought in Hines, a national real estate company that built 500 Boylston and 222 Berkeley in the Back Bay, and an office tower above the railroad tracks at Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
At South Station, the team’s first proposal included a 759-foot tower and 2 million total square feet over several phases, before being changed several times. In 2006, the BRA approved the current slightly smaller plan. But the office tower struggled to find tenants in the economic downturn, and in 2009, Tufts bowed out of the project. It has lain dormant since then, despite Boston’s hot real estate market.
If Hines starts construction next year, the tower would join a wave of new skyscrapers that dot Boston’s skyline. At 677 feet, it would be a bit shorter than One Dalton Street in the Back Bay, Millennium Tower, and a soon-to-be-filed project at One Bromfield in Downtown Crossing.