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Developer to start work in '06 on Fan Pier condos, office tower

Fan Pier developer Joseph F. Fallon said yesterday that he plans to begin construction next year on both a residential condominium building and an office tower on the 21-acre waterfront site.

Fallon, who along with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. bought the long-vacant land for $115 million in September, said he has asked internationally known architectural firms to compete to design the two buildings.

They are the first of eight that will be built, for a total of about 3 million square feet, over the next decade or so. Fallon will complete a sizable park and the Harborwalk, along the water's edge on the South Boston Waterfront property, along with his first phase, he said.

''In January we commence the design and construction drawings," Fallon said yesterday. ''We would look to have both buildings under construction at the end of 2006." Completion is expected to take about two years.

Fallon yesterday named Elkus/Manfredi Architects Ltd. of Boston to design the ground-floor layout and streetscape of the nine-block area, which would be adjacent to a six-acre marina and the new Institute of Contemporary Art, now under construction.

''It's an opportunity to create a great pedestrian environment," said David P. Manfredi, partner of Elkus/Manfredi. ''Many of those buildings are four-sided -- with public faces on all four sides and access to the waterfront and back to the city."

Fallon yesterday named five prominent architectural firms -- culled from about 30 that expressed interest from around the world -- as finalists.

Competing for the residential site, along Northern Avenue near the ICA building, are Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York and CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc. of Boston.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP of Chicago and two New York firms, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC and Brennan Beer Gorman Architects, will compete to build the office tower, adjacent to the federal courthouse.

Fallon is also negotiating with about five hotel operators and plans to follow the first phase of Fan Pier development closely with a five-star hotel and condominium complex.

In forging ahead with a 22-story, 175-unit luxury condo tower, Fallon is betting that there isn't a surplus of residences coming onto the market in that price range over the next three to five years.

''We pay attention, but in this location we are confident the condos will do well," Fallon said. ''There are very few projects on the water" and adjacent to the central business district like Fan Pier, he said.

Fallon is challenging the current office market by planning a tower amid continuing high vacancy rates. Though he said he won't push ahead without upfront lease commitments of at least 50 percent, Fallon said he is confident those will materialize.

''We've had a pretty strong response from the major tenants in Boston," he said. He plans a 500,000-square-foot, 26-story building, with possibly a 2009 opening.

Later office buildings and residences, and maybe a second hotel, will fill out Fan Pier in coming years, creating a Back Bay-like neighborhood with a total cost of something over $1 billion.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was pleased when his personal friend, Fallon, bought Fan Pier from the Pritzker family of Chicago, said he strongly encouraged the architectural competition.

''It's cutting-edge -- that's what we should be doing," Menino said yesterday. ''What we're looking for on the South Boston Waterfront is something different."

Menino called the land ''the most valuable parcel in any major city of the country on the water" and credited Fallon with moving forward quickly.

''Joe Fallon has put his mark on development of the waterfront," Menino said. ''He is saying we're getting it done, but we're going to do it differently."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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