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Back Bay plan could bring dead zone to life

Developing over the Massachusetts Turnpike by building a platform is a complex and expensive proposition, stalling several past projects.
Developing over the Massachusetts Turnpike by building a platform is a complex and expensive proposition, stalling several past projects.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Two Boston developers are proposing to build a pair of residential towers on one of the last dead zones in the Back Bay, a collection of empty lots that straddle Massachusetts Avenue along and above the turnpike.

The team of Adam Weiner and Steve Samuels unveiled their plans Tuesday evening at a community meeting in the Back Bay. The complex would include an angular glass condominium tower rising 559 feet above Boylston Street with a 24-story apartment tower alongside, near the Hynes Convention Center. A separate mid-rise building would be built across the highway on the far side of Mass. Ave. and Boylston Street.

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The two projects could refill some of the last remaining gaps in the Back Bay created by the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike. But as with several other projects in the works along the turnpike, Weiner’s and Samuels’ success hinges on solving a puzzle that has stymied builders for decades: How to build an expensive platform above the busy highway.

Weiner and Samuels were awarded the air rights to the properties from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in 2013, and proposed a single tower of around 400 feet that would have included a hotel and residences. The pair changed and expanded the scope of the project after partnering with the insurer Prudential Financial Inc., which owns an adjacent air-rights parcel.

This would be the third big development to come to this end of the Back Bay.

A 26-story apartment building called 30 Dalton just opened down the block, while construction is underway at One Dalton, a luxury condo tower and Four Seasons Hotel that will be the city’s third-tallest building.

Weiner will lead development of the project near the Hynes. He said he isn’t worried about timing a real estate market that is swelling with new luxury housing.

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“We are confident as we can be,” Weiner said. “Three years out, we feel good with the Boston market in general and we feel good about the Back Bay in particular.”

Samuels, meanwhile, will spearhead development of the property on the west side of Mass. Ave., known as Parcel 12, that extends across the turnpike to Newbury Street.

“We feel the job of this parcel is to fix Newbury Street, Boylston, and Mass. Ave. all at once,” Samuels said. “Take a lot of street frontage and make it more pedestrian-friendly.”

The building on the right may have a blocked view from the new construction.
The building on the right may have a blocked view from the new construction.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Samuels’ project would need at least 22,000 square feet of decking over the highway; the Weiner portion of the development includes three different parcels, some of which are above the highway, and some that grade down to ground level.

As the amount of decking needed grows, so too do the size and height of the development to pay for this expensive construction. That math has killed or stalled other so-called air rights projects over the Mass. Pike for decades.

“It’s just unbelievably complex,” Samuels said.

The two projects could refill some of the last remaining gaps in Back Bay created by the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The two projects could refill some of the last remaining gaps in Back Bay created by the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

But with the Boston real estate market going strong, several turnpike air-rights projects are pushing forward.

Developer John Rosenthal said last week that he has financing to launch construction on two apartment buildings — on firm ground — to jumpstart his long-stalled Fenway Center project. Peebles Corp. is working on a hotel and apartment building across Boylston Street from Weiner’s site next to the MBTA’s Hynes Station. And at least two developers are exploring reviving the long-dormant Columbus Center project over the turnpike between Clarendon and Arlington streets.

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With Prudential on board and new designs in hand, Weiner and Samuels say they’re confident their project can make it to construction. They are discussing the changes to the original plan with MassDOT and expect to file formal plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency in the coming months.

“Our goal is to have projects that get done,” Weiner said. “We’re talking about three pretty meaningful buildings here, and we thought this was the best strategy for completing them.”


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.