Plans for General Electric’s future headquarters in Fort Point have run into a speed bump — one that’s green and four stories high.
As the project otherwise sails through Boston’s permitting process, neighbors are raising concerns about the pending demolition of an overhead pedestrian bridge that has connected brick buildings on either side of Necco Court for more than a century.
For them, the bridge over Necco Court is one of the most iconic elements in their neighborhood of historic industrial buildings, a structure depicted by local artists in paintings and photos.
“They are treasures,” painter Karen McFeaters said of her neighborhood’s overhead bridges. “Having lived in Orlando, Florida, for 10 years, where there’s nothing but strip malls and Disney World, I’d like to preserve what’s here.”
The newly-renamed Boston Planning & Development Agency could approve GE’s application for a 388,000-square-foot, three-building complex, which would require the bridge’s demolition, as soon as Oct. 20. That’s less than three months after GE submitted its plans.
The Fort Point Channel Landmark District Commission, which reviews building proposals in the neighborhood, is expected to weigh in on the GE plan at its Oct. 13 meeting.
GE set the process in motion in January by deciding to relocate here from Fairfield, Conn. The industrial giant is occupying temporary digs on nearby Farnsworth Street until it can move into its new headquarters in 2018. The 2.4-acre complex would consist of two now-vacant brick buildings along Necco Court, as well as a new, 12-story building next door that would overlook the Fort Point Channel.
By picking the historic Necco buildings, GE executives deliberately selected a property that showcases a long industrial history. Built in the early 1900s for the New England Confectionary Co., the bridge over Necco Court was a link to the candy maker’s operations along Melcher Street.
“It was part of a collection of buildings, not just a standalone piece,” said Steve Hollinger, a Fort Point resident. “This demolition severs that connection.”
Boston Wharf sold the two Necco Court buildings and adjacent land to Gillette in the early 2000s, and now Gillette’s owner, Procter & Gamble, is selling them for the GE project. GE plans to build a lobby around an existing smaller bridge tucked between the two Necco Court buildings.
The bridge controversy won’t stop the project, which has the enthusiastic support of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker. But it does pose a challenge for GE, particularly as the company’s execs try to ingratiate themselves with neighbors.
“We have no intention of using the bridge and we’ve done the evaluation of it in terms of the condition and usability and believe that the best thing is for the bridge to come down,” said Susan Bishop, a GE spokeswoman. “But we’re listening and evaluating options because there are some folks in the neighborhood who are very concerned about it.”
Bishop pointed to language in a document related to the Boston Wharf-Gillette deal that says the bridge should come down if the two Necco Court buildings are substantially renovated. She noted that the bridge has been damaged by fire and water seepage over the years. The bridge is currently walled off at the point where it connects to the Melcher Street complex, an office building now owned by Synergy Investments.
“We heard very clearly from the community that the bridge is important,” said John Barros, Boston’s chief of economic development. “People have been clear that this is the most important landmarks issue in the process of evaluating the project.”
Neither Synergy nor P&G would say much about the bridge’s fate. All a spokesman for Synergy would say is that the real estate firm doesn’t object to taking the bridge down. MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency that would ultimately own the two Necco buildings, also declined to talk about the issue.
Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, said his group shares the Fort Point neighbors’ concerns about the Necco Court bridge. “If it really has to come down, it’s going to take some convincing,” Galer said.
Fort Point resident Valerie Burns said the bridge is one of the key features of Fort Point that speak to the area’s industrial history, much like the bridge over Melcher Street and the smokestack at the end of Wormwood Street.
Fans of the bridge remain hopeful that GE executives will change their mind and include it in their plans.
“If they can find a way to do this,” Karen McFeaters said, “they’re going to establish a lot of goodwill in the community. They’ll make a lot of friends if they can find a way to fix it.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.