Business & Tech

Aquarium softens opposition to Chiofaro waterfront tower

The Harbor Garage is seen from the Harbor in Boston, Massachusetts October 1, 2013. (Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe)

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File

Developer Don Chiofaro plans to replace the Boston Harbor Garage with a 600-foot tower.

The most influential critic of a skyscraper proposed for the Boston waterfront appears to be softening its opposition.

The New England Aquarium signaled this week that it could support developer Don Chiofaro’s plans for a 600-foot-tall tower on the site of the neighboring Boston Harbor Garage, as long as the popular tourist attraction is compensated for lost business during construction and the project creates a welcoming environment for the Central Wharf area.

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That’s what R.J. Lyman, an attorney for the aquarium, said at a state hearing Monday on new zoning rules for the downtown waterfront that could enable Chiofaro’s long-debated tower. While a number of neighbors remain opposed to the project, the aquarium said it generally supports the zoning rules passed last month by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, with a few caveats. Those rules are now being reviewed by state environmental regulators.

“We think this plan creates a sound foundation and a reasonable framework,” said Lyman, himself a former top environmental regulator under then-governor William Weld. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

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The deal-making tone is a shift for the aquarium, which in December called Chiofaro’s project an “existential threat.” It comes after the Boston Planning & Development Agency inserted language into the proposed zoning calling for the aquarium to get “reasonable compensation” for any business lost during construction.

It also comes as talks are beginning between the aquarium and Chiofaro that could allow the developer to buy the aquarium’s Imax theater, which would enable him to expand his project area while also making room for the aquarium’s so-called “Blueway” plaza on Central Wharf.

Details of both agreements still need to be worked out, said aquarium executive vice president Eric Krauss, and the Imax sale, in particular, is very preliminary. But if it all works out, Krauss said, there’s a chance that all involved will be better off.

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“Whatever emerges out of the state process has to address our key needs,” Krauss said. “We want to survive, and emerge from this thriving.”

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