After 15 years of delays and revisions, the first phase of the Fenway Center project finally is about to get underway.
Work on two apartment buildings along Beacon Street is expected to start in the next few weeks, developers say. It’s not quite the grand vision developer John Rosenthal first pitched in 2002 — a five-building complex with a 305-foot tower above the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park — but it’s a major milestone for a project that at various points appeared unlikely to ever move forward.
“We will mobilize immediately,” said Kelly Saito, managing partner of Gerding Edlen, a builder that’s partnering with Rosenthal on the project. “By January 1, we should be into heavy construction.”
The developers say they have secured financing and signed agreements with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to split the complex project into two phases.
The two buildings — with 312 apartments and a price tag of $240 million — will go up in what is now a parking lot at the corner of Beacon and Maitland streets. As they do, Rosenthal said, he and his partners will work to land financing for the far-more-costly second phase above the highway itself.
“We’re going to create a neighborhood here where today there are parking lots and windswept bridges,” he said. “That will attract the debt and equity for Phase 2.”
If Rosenthal and his partners are able to proceed with the second phase — which includes the office tower, more housing, and a garage — they would become the first developers in decades to build above the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The complex logistics of doing that is one reason Fenway Center has taken so long to get off the ground. When Gerding Edlen and new investors, including TH Real Estate, a subsidiary of TIAA, joined the project last year, they proposed breaking it into two phases, leaving most of a costly deck over the Pike for the second phase.
“I’m still very bullish on Phase 2,” Rosenthal said. “But we couldn’t get there without breaking this up.”
Doing that, however, required a sign-off from state officials who had originally leased the air rights parcel to Rosenthal with the understanding that Fenway Center be built all at once. Those conversations took a year, and culminated with the developers signing their final lease with the state on Wednesday.
A spokesman for MassDOT said Fenway Center “will transform this underutilized state asset into a thriving economic development opportunity.”
That’s what Rosenthal and Saito — whose Portland, Ore.-based firm has also built in East Boston and the South End — are counting on happening.
Despite some signs that the market for new rental construction is cooling off, Saito said that there still remains strong interest in a vibrant pocket of the city — between the Longwood Medical Area and the Back Bay. When the first Fenway Center building opens in about 18 months, he said, the demand for its apartments will be solid.
“We actually think it’s a good time to start this project,” Saito said.
Rosenthal, who’s also a well-known gun-control and environmental activist, has toiled for a decade and a half to make Fenway Center happen, dealing with several investors and partners, and a long roster of officials at City Hall and on Beacon Hill.
Now, he’s scheduling a groundbreaking, and looking forward to seeing his vision start to take shape.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Rosenthal said. “This wasn’t an easy deal to get done. We just hung in there.”