On Monday evening, the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall was turned into something resembling a real estate development science fair.
Six teams of developers and architects, eager in their suits, stood by posterboard presentations and 3-D models and explained the tall towers they'd very much like to build on the site of the Winthrop Square Garage in downtown Boston.
It was a night when the public got to see — and weigh in on — proposals the Boston Redevelopment Authority is weighing as it seeks a builder for the shuttered garage. Hundreds of people, from BRA board members to curious passersby, filtered through over two hours.
It was also a rare chance to view all six projects in one place at one time, and hear pitches back-to-back from some of the most sophisticated developers in Boston.
Here's what we learned about the projects and about how the BRA might make its decision:
Looking at the presentations, one could be forgiven for forgetting that these developers are vying to build one of the tallest buildings in Boston. Sure, everyone had a scale model of their full tower, but most focused their energies on the space where the building meets the street, and on the soaring public halls, pocket parks, and black-box theaters they're promising to enliven it. After all, that's where most Bostonians would experience these buildings most of the time.
One could also be forgiven for forgetting this is a for-profit exercise. Whether it was Lendlease talking up its partnerships with community groups or Trinity Financial touting its plan to make 40 percent of the housing in its tower affordable, developers were playing the "What we can do for Boston" card. That makes sense, given that one team will be handed the keys to a billion-dollar development site on publicly owned land. But as the BRA prepares to choose who that team is, it's not yet clear how they'll balance civic goodies against other priorities, such as a big check for the city or a developer who can get to work fast.
Boston's a small town. Its real estate world is even smaller. And seemingly everyone in that world — from flacks and fixers to financiers and famous architects — was in the room Monday night, either working for one of the development teams or being worked by them. Accordia Partners enlisted friends of its project to wear "supporter" name tags, while HYM Investments brought a Franciscan to talk about its partnership with the St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street. All of it was designed to influence the unaffiliated — rival developers, civic activists, and regular Bostonians off the street — who came to see the plans, and maybe share their opinions with the BRA. In a contest like this, every opinion counts.
Some came with posters, others with virtual reality goggles. The six project teams brought wildly different levels of gadgetry to help make their cases. You could admire Trans National Properties' twin towers amid a mock-up of the Financial District skyline, or don Millennium Partners' goggles to peer upward at a soaring Great Hall. Several projects launched websites for the occasion, as well, chock full of information and images to peruse on your own time. But in the end, the 12 city officials who are deciding who will win here all — presumably — have access to whatever information they want. So we'll see how far the whiz-bang stuff goes.
The BRA says it wants to name a developer soon, but expect it to be months, not weeks, before that happens. The authority hasn't yet opened financial documents attached to the proposals, which detail offers to purchase or lease the site and each team's wherewithal to build the thing. After that's done, BRA real estate chief Ed O'Donnell said, the authority is likely to winnow the pack down to a few finalists and invite them in for another round of interviews. While O'Donnell insists he'd like to name a developer while the real estate market is still hot, reading between the lines that sounds more like it will happen in August or September than in July.