Fidelity Investments wants a better waterfront view.
The mutual fund giant bet big on the Seaport in the 1980s and 1990s, back when few other companies would. Now, Fidelity is opening its considerably sized wallet again for an ambitious remake of its Seaport World Trade Center complex.
And of the coming changes, this might be the biggest: Fidelity is closing the vast exhibition space known as Commonwealth Hall.
The roughly 120,000-square-foot hall opened nearly 30 years ago with the Boston Boat Show, and became a go-to place for consumer-focused events. Its importance for gate shows increased after a rival, the Bayside Expo, closed nearly a decade ago. Over the years, the pier’s spacious hall hosted everyone from tuxedoed muckety-mucks to wetsuit-clad triathletes to animatronic dinosaurs.
Not for much longer: The Hall shuts for good in May 2020.
With that in mind, the entire 804,000-square-foot complex becomes less of a “trade center” and more of a waterfront corporate office for Fidelity, which will occupy all of the pier’s renovated office space. (Offices make up about two-thirds of the structure today.) Fidelity controls the site through a long-term lease with Massport and employs about 1,500 people there. Its Pembroke real estate arm expects to file a notice on Friday with the city, outlining the plans.
This has been in the works for a while, a logical next step for Fidelity. But this isn’t what developers, including Fidelity, envisioned when they carved up the now-century-old Commonwealth Pier in the 1980s. The original goal: a “computer mart,” nicknamed Boscom, that would house various tech companies. Boscom turned out to be a bust. Eventually, the pier reopened as a “World Trade Center,” though still with the intent to host multiple tenants and trade shows.
Fidelity gradually grew its presence over the years, but the walk to its offices remains a bit circuitous. You’ve got to go past — and, in most cases, over — that expo hall first. The exterior is worn and dated, the interior somewhat of a labyrinth. Fidelity will most likely spend hundreds of millions to convert the pier into a modern office complex. (Fido also employs about 3,200 at its Summer Street headquarters, and about 500 next door at Seaport West.)
A spokesman says Fidelity won’t increase the height of the pier’s two- and three-story footprint. The connection between the street level at Seaport Boulevard and the upper viaduct will be improved. The space for shops and restaurants will be more than quadrupled, from only 9,000 square feet today, in part to enliven that upper deck.
Massport officials recently gave the concept the green light; they like how Fidelity plans to increase the pier’s outdoor space, including along the Harborwalk, and make it more accessible to the public.
Pat Moscaritolo, CEO of the Greater Boston tourism bureau, doesn’t sound fazed about the loss of Commonwealth Hall. The giant Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the Hynes can pick up the slack, he says, especially if some smaller shows share the space — and the cost. (This won’t be his concern for much longer; he retires in February.)
Removing the hall gives Fidelity more flexibility to reconfigure the complex, and improve the flow. The Fidelity spokesman was cagey about specifics, saying more detailed plans will be filed in early 2019 with the Boston Planning & Development Agency for its approval. At least one thing is certain: The age of animatronic dinosaurs will be over.