New era docks on the waterfront

$60m Liberty Wharf complex showcases public, open spaces

The new Liberty Wharf complex on the South Boston Waterfront is everything its predecessor was not: sleek, open, and inviting. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff Photo) The new Liberty Wharf complex on the South Boston Waterfront is everything its predecessor was not: sleek, open, and inviting.
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / September 1, 2010

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This is not your father’s Jimmy’s Harborside. With walls of glass, exotic woods, and sharply drawn angles, the new Liberty Wharf complex on the South Boston Waterfront is everything its predecessor was not: sleek, open and inviting.

Gone from the Northern Avenue property are Jimmy’s white stone walls and massive red sign, features that made the shuttered eatery a relic of a different era, when the waterfront was the province of industry and mostly walled off from the public.

In its place is a $60 million three-building complex by Cresset Development LLC that will include four restaurants, a plaza with outdoor seating on the water, and a public marina. One of the buildings will be a Legal Sea Foods that will have its own 4,000-square-foot roof deck, with a fireplace and a large, circular bar. It is scheduled to open this winter.

“We really tried to activate this space and make it more accessible,’’ said John Baxter, one of Cresset’s three principals. “It’s amazing that Boston has always had its back to the water in some regards.’’

Liberty Wharf offers a glimpse of how new development can change the Seaport District, where many other long-planned projects are only now inching forward. Cresset razed the old Jimmy’s and its crumbling wharf, and constructed three glass-walled buildings, leaving enough space between them for public access to the waterfront. The project was aided by $2.6 million in federal money awarded by the city.

“Its uses are consistent with the kind of energy we’re trying to create in the Innovation District,’’ said Boston Redevelopment Authority director John Palmieri, referring to the name the Menino administration has given to the Seaport area in an effort to attract technology companies.

The new complex, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, includes a 600-foot addition to the city’s Harborwalk and offers sweeping views of the water and city from a number of vantage points. The Harborwalk boardwalk is made of Brazilian hardwood, which was also used as interior and exterior finishes in the new buildings. There will also be a ramp and floating docks to accommodate water taxis, ferries, and private boaters.

The main building will include the three other restaurants: Del Frisco’s, a Houston-based steak house; a Jerry Remy’s sports bar; and a yet-to-be named Mexican restaurant.

The upper portion of the building will be office space, though Cresset has yet to find tenants for it.

A third building will be more like an enlarged kiosk where Cresset is looking to have a cafe or wine bar.

In a nod to their predecessor, the owners of Legal Sea Foods said they will name their new restaurant Legal’s Harborside. Housed in its own building, the 20,000-square-foot restaurant will be unlike any other in the Legal chain, said owner Roger Berkowitz.

“We want to take advantage of the water location to do something special,’’ Berkowitz said. “It’s going to have universal appeal.’’

Berkowitz said the first floor will offer casual fare, while the second will be traditional fine dining that will showcase more “exotic seafood that doesn’t often make its way onto Boston menus.’’

The roof deck will offer cocktails and lighter cuisine.

Casey Ross can be reached at