Ambitious plan for Government Center Garage site

Vast project calls for shops, housing

The Government Center Garage in downtown Boston, shown last winter, might be torn down. The Government Center Garage in downtown Boston, shown last winter, might be torn down. (John Blanding/ Globe Staff/ File)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / June 23, 2011

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The hulking Government Center Garage in Boston would be torn down and replaced with a massive complex of residences, offices, and stores under an ambitious plan made public yesterday.

The project — which, if approved, would be one of the largest to proceed in downtown in decades — comes from HYM Investment Group LLC, and would bring 2.4 million square feet of development to a key 4-acre plot between Boston City Hall, the TD Garden, and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. For 40 years the garage has acted as a wall between the area around Faneuil Hall and a reemerging neighborhood in the city’s West End.

“The proposed project will remove the unsightly barrier of the Government Center Garage from its current prominent position over Congress Street ,’’ HYM chief Thomas N. O’Brien, a former Boston planning chief, wrote in a two-page letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The letter, released by the BRA yesterday, also said the de velopment would include a hotel, a “major residential component,’’ and retail stores that would complement a planned food market above the Haymarket MBTA station.

O’Brien has not said how tall the proposed complex would be. The current garage, which is topped by several floors of offices, is 11 stories.

Even at its smaller size, the development would be the largest in the current pipeline of construction projects in downtown Boston and would bring hundreds of new residents into an area of the city that goes quiet on nights when the Boston Bruins or Celtics are not playing at the nearby Garden. The project is more than double what another developer has proposed building on the site of the former Filene’s department store in Downtown Crossing.

The garage is located on New Sudbury Street and is bounded by Congress, New Chardon, and Hawkins streets.

The new proposal must get multiple city and state approvals before construction could begin, a process likely to take a year or longer. O’Brien, who also must secure tenants for the project, said in a statement yesterday that he intends to submit more details to the city in the fall.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a skeptic of the prior plan for the site, offered general support for the latest version yesterday, saying it would not overshadow the adjacent Greenway parks.

“I think you’ll see a different type of development there,’’ he said. “It won’t take any of the city’s property, and it will be scaled down from what you’ve seen in the past.’’

Menino spoke after a celebration at a different development project — Fan Pier, the 23-acre project on the South Boston Waterfront — for the groundbreaking of the new home for drug maker Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., which will lease an $800 million office and research complex on the site. That project involves the largest lease in the city’s history, and is the largest ongoing private development in the country.

He said the progress at Fan Pier and Government Center “shows the economy is getting stronger’’ and that private funding is beginning to reemerge for expensive construction projects.

The Government Center Garage proposal replaces a prior $2.2 billion plan by developer Ted Raymond to build a pair of Prudential-Building-sized skyscrapers that would have required using adjacent city-owned property. In early 2010, Raymond was removed by the garage’s owners, Lewis Trust Group of Great Britain and the National Electrical Workers Benefit fund, after he failed to move forward with the project. O’Brien was tapped to replace him.

The Government Center Garage redevelopment is one of the few remaining opportunities for large-scale development near the Greenway. In his filing with the city, O’Brien steered clear of the project’s most controversial aspects, including the height of the buildings he would construct. Raymond’s towers would have topped out at 42 and 52 stories, a size that raised concerns from its neighbors and the city.

O’Brien said only that the project would be multiple stories and would be built in phases. The development would be built over a new parking facility that would replace the spaces lost from demolition of the existing garage. The work to dismantle the garage would occur in phases, keeping open some sections to preserve parking during construction.

O’Brien confirmed his plans do not include using any of the city-owned parcels in the area, including the one that hosts a recently renovated Boston Police station. Although the project’s details are still being developed, it would include multiple buildings and create new walking paths between Government Center and surrounding neighborhoods.

HYM’s filing also said the work would create several thousand construction jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue for the city.

One neighborhood leader said he was pleased to see the new initiative. “It suggests the potential for this site has returned,’’ said Robert O’Brien, executive director of the Downtown North Association, which represents businesses and residents in the area. “There are a lot of problems that need to be worked out, but I think the community has confidence that it can happen this time.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at