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Developer unveils his 600-foot-tall vision for Boston’s waterfront

A rendering of Don Chiofaro's proposed tower on the Boston waterfront.Tomorrow AB/KPF

After years of vague discussions about the size and shape of a skyscraper he wants to build on Boston’s waterfront, developer Don Chiofaro is laying his cards on the table.

The veteran developer on Wednesday filed detailed plans with the city for his long-envisioned tower alongside Central Wharf, which would put office space and apartments in a 600-foot high-rise where the hulking Boston Harbor Garage now sits. The $1.2 billion project is still probably at least 19 months from groundbreaking, but Wednesday’s filing marked the start of a formal city review for a building that has been debated for, well, what seems like forever.


The plans include the first new images in six years of what would be a skyline-altering tower. They show a rounded, clover-shaped structure designed by the architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox that tapers, section by section, from the street to the top. The exterior features glass, but less of it than on many recent Boston towers, with white terracotta-like strips running vertically down the building’s face. And at the street level, there are big windows looking out on expanded plazas along Milk Street and a redone section of the Boston Harborwalk.

As for what’s inside, the plan details two levels of stores and restaurants at the base, with 22 stories of office space above and apartments on the upper floors above that.

Below ground would be a 1,100-space garage.

A rendering of Don Chiofaro's proposed skyscraper on the Boston waterfront. WAX/KFP/KPF

Crucially, said Chiofaro Co. executive Rob Caridad, the designs will at last give people with opinions about the project some specifics to discuss.

“This is a great opportunity, we think, to put something on the table,” he said. “You can’t have a specific conversation without specific information.”

That was welcome news to Marc Margulies, president of the Wharf District Council, a neighborhood group that has pushed for more open space in the project. He was reviewing the 500-plus-page filing on Wednesday but said at least now there’s something concrete to talk about.


“Everybody has been saying for years that trying to critique this concept in theory without anything to actually look at is relatively unproductive,” he said. “We have been asking for what they just provided.”

But other neighbors were quick to express their concerns.

The Conservation Law Foundation and neighboring Harbor Towers — both of which are suing over the zoning plan that allows the project — released separate statements pointing out their ongoing lawsuit.

Within minutes of Chiofaro’s filing, New England Aquarium issued a statement calling the tower “a gross overuse of the site.”

It said the plan misses the opportunity for a more comprehensive approach to issues shared by Chiofaro and his neighbors.

More broadly, said the aquarium’s CEO, Vikki Spruill, the nonprofit wonders if a 600-foot skyscraper is really what this stretch of the waterfront needs.

“Our opposition is really fundamentally about something more than any specific design,” she said. “Is this the right kind of project for Boston at this moment in time, given concerns about inclusivity and climate change? We have a chance to do this right, and in my opinion this is not that project.”

Chiofaro Co. countered that the waterfront zoning plan was five years in the making — allowing plenty of time for feedback — and that the company’s climate plan, which would raise the site of the project by four feet, fits with the city’s Green Ribbon Commission climate plan.


“We respect the Aquarium’s input as a leader in the area of resiliency,” Chiofaro Co. said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our active conversations with them about the benefits of the project and the opportunities afforded by collaboration.”

These debates are likely to heat up in coming weeks, at public meetings held by the Boston Planning & Development Agency as part of its community review.

Ultimately the project will land on the desk of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has been generally supportive — unlike his predecessor Thomas M. Menino, who effectively blocked it for years — but his administration hasn’t yet weighed in about the details filed Wednesday. State environmental regulators will also have a say on the project, which would put an unprecedented amount of development on the edge of Boston Harbor.

Many advocates for public space say they want to improve access to the waterfront, and they like the idea of a tower that consumes just half as much space on the ground as the blocky garage that’s there now. But some are wary of allowing a building of that height there and worry about the precedent it could set for other sites along Boston’s historic waterfront. Chiofaro and his team say the sheer size of the building — the 865,000 square feet they can lease to tenants — will help pay for what will be a hugely expensive development, and that a shorter building could require other trade-offs.


Either way, the look and feel of the massive project will be debated in the months to come. Chiofaro and his team say they are looking forward to the back-and-forth.

“In one way, this the culmination of 10 years of process and planning,” Caridad said. “In another, it’s the beginning of a conversation over what people want for this site.”

A rendering of the building.Tomorrow AB/KFP/KPF
A rendering of the building.Tomorrow AB/KFP/KPF

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.