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Developers make pitches for parcel near Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  April 26, 2012 06:12 PM

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boston museum plan 2012.jpg

(The Boston Museum/Cambridge Seven Associates)

The proposed Boston Museum would include exhibits on growth, people, politics, sports, and innovation, and each would have a corresponding color in the design.

With four proposals on the table for the empty lot between the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and Blackstone Street, developers are seeking support from the citizens' advisory committee that will make recommendations to the state Department of Transportation.

Public presentations began Wednesday night in the North End, with two developers sharing very different visions for Greenway Parcel 9, adjacent to the weekly Haymarket produce market. They will continue at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1, at the Mariner’s House in North Square.

While the presentations are open to public comment and questions, financial details of the plans will not be discussed at this stage.

First up were the planners of the Boston Museum, a facility originally intended for Parcel 12, the ramp parcel that lies catty-corner to Parcel 9 to the southeast. That scheme was abandoned in 2008 due to the expense of building over ramps to the Central Artery Tunnel.

Both the YMCA of Greater Boston and planners for a New Center for Arts and Culture later gave up plans to build on ramp parcels due to the cost.

The Boston Museum, a nonprofit group led by developer Frank Keefe, submitted a plan for Parcel 9 in a 2009 round of proposals, but MassDOT rejected all proposals at that time.

At Wednesday's meeting, Keefe proclaimed the site, right on the Freedom Trail, “the best in the country.”

The new plan calls for a 100,000-square-foot building designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, with brick on the Blackstone Street side transitioning into glass facing the Greenway.

The building would step up from one 18-foot story at the lot’s narrow Hanover Street tip to three stories and a 50-foot height about one-third of the way from Hanover to North Street. It would rise to four stories and a 66-foot height at the halfway point, with an 82-foot fifth story on the final third of its length.

It would include exhibits on Boston’s history and development in five categories: growth, people, politics, sports, and innovation.

Keefe said the museum would include a variety of temporary exhibitions, with some possibly spearheaded by city residents and others brought there through partnerships with such institutions as the MIT Museum, Facing History & Ourselves, and the Sports Museum of New England.

The exhibits would cycle through with enough frequency to give visitors a reason to come back regularly, he said.

The museum would feature free educational programs and free admission to all Boston Public Schools students. For others, tickets would cost around $11.

The ground floor would contain a lobby, gift shop, café, and restrooms, but the bulk of that space would be set aside as a community marketplace for use by Haymarket pushcart vendors, other vendors, or the city. Glass garage doors would open the first floor up to Blackstone Street, and Haymarket vendors would only be asked to pay operating costs for the space, he said.

“The pushcart vendors, we embrace them,” Keefe said. “They can have the entire ground floor. If they want to be open more than two days a week, they want to be open seven days a week, they can.”

The relationship with the vendors, he said, would be complementary, with the 180-year-old Haymarket serving as a “living exhibit” of the city’s history.

Keefe stressed that unlike some other local museums that received donated land or public subsidies for their sites, and in contrast to its initial proposal calling for a $40 million contribution from the state, the current plan would be fully paid for through the museum’s fund-raising efforts.

“We’re not asking for any subsidies,” Keefe said. “We’ll pay fair market value.”

He said successful recent fundraising efforts by the Peabody Essex Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, the Gardner Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and others showed that even in a down economy it is possible to raise money for a cultural institution.

He touted the fund-raising experience of museum board members such as Linda Whitlock, who he said raised $109 million for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, and Churchill G. Franklin, who he said raised $400 million for Middlebury College.

Keefe predicted that project would take about a year to complete the city’s approval process. Simultaneously, the developers would work toward a finished design, which would take about 18 months. Construction would begin in around three years, with 75 percent of the necessary funds raised, and be completed in five years.

The museum would create 1,200 jobs and bring $86 million more to the regional economy, he predicted.

The night’s other presenter, Philip DeNormandie, owns 10 properties in the Blackstone Block adjacent to Parcel 9 and also submitted a proposal for developing the site in 2009.

He returned for this round with Edward G. Nardi, Cresset Group founder and principal, and with architect Sy Mintz, who, like DeNormandie, has made his office in the Blackstone Block for three decades and who worked with architects from Utile Inc. in designing the Blackstone Market proposal.

The 112,000-square-foot market building would have a small, one-story section about 15 1/2 feet in height at Hanover Street rising quickly to two stories and 30 1/2 feet and then to a seven-story, 83-foot section in its final third. The two-story section, though, would have a small greenhouse near the Hanover Street tip.

It would have a similar first-floor layout to the museum, with the majority of the space — about 18,000-20,000 square feet — given over to market activities. But the space would be a high-end, professionally managed market buying its meat, poultry, bread, and dairy products from local growers and bakers.

Faced with questions about how this would sit alongside both Haymarket and a planned public market for the adjacent parcel across Hanover Street, DeNormandie said it would be a different kind of store selling distinctive products. He said his team would work with the public market managers and the pushcart vendors to ensure the right mix.

“I can guarantee you, there’s no conflict in these things,” DeNormandie said. “They really complement each other, and even when you take all of the district together, it isn’t going to be big enough to meet all of the needs of the farmers and of the consumers.”

Nardi stressed that the developers want to keep Haymarket as it is today on Blackstone Street. They plan to improve conditions in the market, he said, by working with the city and the state to flatten the street, provide utilities and storage for the vendors, and create an effective trash and recycling center that would serve Haymarket, the restaurants, and the residential tenants.

“The pushcart vendors … provide the energy and really the long history here,” Nardi said. “We’re not here to gentrify their use; we’re not here to relocate their use. We want to complement their use.”

The second floor would be divided into restaurant spaces, probably three, each with its own first-floor entry and second-floor outdoor seating area. Above the restaurants would be a green roof and greenhouse that would serve as an urban agricultural center, offering schoolchildren a chance to learn about farming in the city.

Produce from the roof would be sold in the market downstairs and to nearby restaurants.

The upper five floors at the North Street end would be rental housing, with five 525-square-foot studio apartments, 30 one-bedroom apartments of 775 square feet, and 15 two-bedroom apartments of 1,050 square feet.

As required by Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s inclusionary housing policy, seven units would be affordable, priced at 70 percent of area median income.

Mintz stressed that the building was designed to meet the guidelines set by the advisory committee, with an emphasis on the market function.

“We see this as the market building that you’ve asked for,” Mintz said. “We see the housing as a piece of it, but not the dominant piece.”

There would be no parking designated for tenants, but the developers believe that little will be necessary for downtown tenants, and that those who do need parking can find it for a fee in nearby garages.

The project would have a shorter timeline than the museum proposal, with construction completed in less than three years and full occupancy predicted within 40 months.

By the developers’ estimates, the Blackstone Market would create approximately 125 temporary construction jobs and then about 400 restaurant jobs, 100 more in the market space, and a few management and valet positions.

All four proposals are available at the MassDOT Real Estate Website. MassDOT will accept public comment on the proposals until June 3, 2012. Comments may be sent by e-mail to or by letter to the following address:

RE: Parcel 9
10 Park Plaza, Suite 4170
Boston, MA 02116

Correction: Due to a reporting error, this story originally said that the citizens’ advisory committee would recommend one development plan to the state. The committee will actually submit a list of pros and cons for each project but will not make a single recommendation.

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Blackstone Market.JPG

(Blackstone Market LLC/Sy Mintz/Utile Inc.)

The proposed Blackstone Market would consist of a ground-floor market, second-floor restaurants, and five stories of rental housing.

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