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Construction of 1,000-foot skyscraper urged

An artist's rendering of how Boston's skyline would look with the addition of a 70- to 80-story tower. The skyscraper is being proposed for the site of the Winthrop Square parking garage.
An artist's rendering of how Boston's skyline would look with the addition of a 70- to 80-story tower. The skyscraper is being proposed for the site of the Winthrop Square parking garage. (Boston Redevelopment Authority)

Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday called for construction of the city's tallest building ever -- a 70- to 80-story tower reaching 1,000 feet high on the site of the Winthrop Square parking garage in the Financial District -- to demonstrate Boston's confidence in its future.

''Here, we'll be looking for proposals that symbolize the full scope of this city's greatness," Menino told the city's business community yesterday, in a speech at the Seaport Hotel on the South Boston Waterfront.

''We will insist on bold vision and world-class architecture," Menino said of the tower envisioned by City Hall planners. In a colorful artist's rendering of the skyline the city envisions, two slender spires extend the building high above downtown's two tallest structures, the One International Place building and One Financial Center, both 46 floors.

Ken Greenberg, an urban designer and founder of Greenberg Consultants Inc. of Toronto, said Boston could use another skyscraper, because the 1980s and '90s brought a series of buildings of much the same height. ''I don't think all tall buildings are wonderful everywhere," said Greenberg, ''but there are some places where they can play very significant roles.

''What this building does is it creates a punctuation. I was struck by this -- it adds a little something special, gives a little focus to the eye."

In his speech at the annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Menino said the city's immediate priorities are addressing increasing crime, meeting the challenges of rising costs, and staying competitive in a world economy where Boston is less insulated than ever from global challenges.

But a new signature tower would show confidence about overcoming those obstacles, Menino said, serving as ''a stunning statement of our belief in Boston's bright future."

Greenberg was interim chief planner at the BRA until last month but was not involved in the Winthrop Square plan, and he continues to advise the city on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway design. ''There is something about dense cities that is good -- the life and activity," he said.

With the office leasing market showing significant improvement, developers are expected to line up as the city seeks proposals over the next two months for the location at 115 Federal St., between Franklin and Summer streets.

''We expect proposals from around the world," said Susan Elsbree, a spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. ''Dozens."

The office market is improving in Boston and the surrounding area after a difficult few years, and suddenly there is talk in the Boston real estate community of a new office tower, or even two. Two buildings already permitted and in design are located at Russia Wharf and on Fan Pier. But those are in the range of 30 floors or smaller, like most of Boston's recent buildings.

The Winthrop Square site also could be developed for residential use, or some combination of residential and commercial. Developers are allowed greater height if they include housing. The garage, which is owned by the city, would be demolished.

Building height downtown has been constrained in Boston by a combination of factors, including market demand, opposition from community activists who fight the increased traffic and shadows that towers bring, and a patchwork of complex zoning rules.

Though there are many exceptions, height is limited to about 150 feet in most of the city.

Yesterday's proposal -- about 20 floors higher than the city's tallest building, the 62-story John Hancock Tower in the Back Bay -- would radically redraw the city's skyline. Even at 1,000 feet, however, it is still shorter than other major skyscrapers around the world, including the 1,250-foot-high Empire State Building.

A number of local industry players, including International Place co-owner Donald J. Chiofaro and Landmark Center developer Abbey Group, are interested in bidding on the Winthrop Square site.

''A 1,000-foot tower, really?" said Robert Epstein, chief executive of Abbey Group. ''I like tall buildings. We'll definitely look at it."

A spokesman for Steve Belkin, founder of Trans National Group of Boston, said yesterday that he would consider a bid to develop the site. Belkin owns 133 Federal St., an office building with a key location adjacent to the Winthrop Square garage.

''I look forward eagerly to responding and working diligently with the city to help make Mayor Menino's incredible vision a reality," Belkin, who was traveling yesterday, said through a spokesman.

The last office towers to open in the city -- the State Street Financial Center near Chinatown and 33 Arch St. near Downtown Crossing -- are 36 and 33 floors tall respectively.

The tallest buildings expected to be built on the South Boston Waterfront are likely to be even shorter, because they are closer to Logan International Airport and under flight paths. The two World Trade Center towers are 16 and 17 floors.

Over the past decade or so, community activists have raised vigorous objections to tall buildings. Neighbors of the planned Columbus Center, over the Massachusetts Turnpike between the Back Bay and South End, objected to its height, which was finally approved by the city at 35 floors in 2003.

Menino fought a losing battle with Leather District residents who wanted to keep a site known as Two Financial Center, near the 46-floor One Financial Center, from becoming a tower. It ended up being approved at 12 floors.

John B. Hynes III, president of Gale International, which successfully developed the State Street tower, has been critical of an anti-height movement in Boston that has prevented the Boston skyline from extending upward in recent years.

Winthrop Square is ''probably the best office location left in the city," Hynes said last night. ''We're gung-ho on it."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at

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