The city’s landmark Citgo sign is here to stay, but the future of the surrounding buildings remains in question.
Developer Related Beal on Tuesday went before the Boston Civic Design Commission to submit its updated plans to redevelop buildings on Commonwealth Avenue near Deerfield Street. As has happened with previous versions of the proposal to create new office space along Commonwealth Ave., the latest incarnation received a mixed response from commission members. They say they want to balance new development with the familiar feel of Kenmore Square.
“We’re looking for new architecture that relates to the urban context in a deliberate way,” commission chairman Michael Davis said. “It’s a balancing act. This is starting to do that.”
Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance — which opposed the last proposal — said at the meeting that he understands the challenges involved in preserving old buildings, but replacing them requires justifying the loss of history.
“The building on the corner that they’re proposing to demolish is a character-defining building to the square,” said Galer, who played a key role in negotiations to keep the Citgo sign atop the complex. “We don’t quite see a design replacing it that is high enough quality in character to merit that replacement.”
Others, however, don’t share the same high regard for the old architecture of Kenmore.
“I would challenge the people who think there’s something to preserve, because I’ve been there for 45 years and I don’t see it,” said Terri North, president of Kenmore Square Residents Group and member of the project’s impact advisory group.
Neither Galer nor North are commission members.
The developers say they want to build a modern building that companies looking for office space will find attractive, while still blending with neighboring buildings that have stood for many decades.
“We’re trying to reference the buildings that exist along Commonwealth in an abstract way,” said designer Roger Ferris of Roger Ferris + Partners architectural firm.
The Civic Design Commission, which recommends projects to the Boston Development and Planning Agency for formal approval, will meet at least once more to discuss the Kenmore plans. The next meeting will be a joint session with the Landmark Commission, which has been reviewing the status of the Citgo sign since Boston University sold the buildings to Related Beal in 2016.
Commissioners asked to see more long views of the Citgo sign’s placement as part of the planned development, to assess its visibility from different locations.
Following the May reveal of the proposal, some nearby residents and business owners expressed dissatisfaction with a rendering depicting a modern glass structure — called the Commonwealth Building — on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield Street. They said the angular structure did not reflect the character and history of the area.
The new plan for the six-story Commonwealth Building shows it wrapping around the corner of the two blocks with a smooth curve facing the square.
Commissioners said they worried that the top two stories look more like an addition to the building rather than part of the original architecture. They had similar concerns with another part of the project, the Beacon Building.
North, of the Kenmore Square Residents Group, said she hopes the modern streetscape and offices will encourage people to linger in the area rather than just pass through.
“Kenmore Square is a vital aspect of the city and it’s been neglected for a very long time. We’ve got one shot at this,” she said. “We want Kenmore Square to be a destination. We don’t want it to be just the place people pass through for the ballgame.”
Meantime, members of the Boston Preservation Alliance believe the new plans are an improvement, but still need work, Galer said.
“We hope the design evolves more to really meet the opportunity and possibilities of historic Kenmore Square,” he said.