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Downtown retail tour highlights plans for former Filene's, Borders sites

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  July 19, 2012 03:11 PM

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Joseph Larkin - Millennium.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for

Joseph Larkin, a principal at Millennium Partners, described plans for a 610-foot tower on the former Filene’s site.

A local developer and a real estate executive previewed two of downtown’s most anticipated developments during a recent tour of Boston’s retail areas.

With the downtown shopping district still recovering from the recession, much attention has been given to two once-thriving sites: the former Filene’s department store at Washington and Summer streets and the former Borders bookstore at Washington and School.

Monday’s Boston Retail Bus Tour addressed plans for those sites as well as ongoing growth in retail districts around the city.

A mixed-use high-rise planned for the Filene’s site was abandoned by Vornado Realty Trust in 2008, and the site sat inactive until New York-based Millennium Partners emerged with a new plan for the site last spring.

Joseph Larkin, a principal at Millennium Partners, told the crowd the $620 million project would “help the downtown be what the downtown has always been, except for just a couple of years.”

Larkin said Millennium believes in bringing new residents to urban areas, as it has done previously in Boston at the Ritz-Carlton Towers and as it did near Lincoln Center in New York City.

He said Millennium hopes to begin work as soon as possible, starting with the existing shell of the old Filenes building, which will become office space in its upper floors and retail below. Drawing in office tenants, Larkin said, will help make the project easier to finance and execute.

“It’s a not a speculative project anymore when we do that,” he said.

Jeremy Grossman, a principal at the real estate firm CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors, described plans for the former Border’s building at 10-24 School St., which will become a Walgreens pharmacy, but “not your everyday Walgreens,” Grossman said.

He compared the new store to one at 40 Wall St. in New York City operated under the chain’s Duane Reed brand, which offers “over 25,000 feet of pharmacy, grocery, and services unlike any services you’ll find in a pharmacy, all of which they’ll be bringing to Downtown Crossing.”

He said the store would offer standard grocery items but also organic produce from local farmers, alongside a high-end cosmetics shop and hair and nail salons. And by partnering with a local operator, Walgreens will offer fresh, high-quality sushi.

Grossman admitted that good sushi was not what most people expect to find in a drugstore, but said this sushi would come with the name and the quality of a well-known and respected local restaurant.

A poll of downtown residents had showed that the greatest need for the increasingly residential neighborhood was in the area of “necessity retail,” including grocery shopping, Grossman said. But the location of the building and limited access for loading and unloading of goods made it unsuitable for many larger, traditional grocery chains.

Randi Lathrop, deputy director of community planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, also highlighted plans for the Macy’s department store at the corner of Washington and Summer streets to open a Barbara’s Bookstore section.

The Downtown Crossing Macy’s has been so successful that it has begun opening earlier and closing later, she said, extending its hours from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. The store did $87 million in business in 2011 and predicts it will reach $100 million this year, Lathrop said.

Lathrop said more than 80 new businesses had opened in downtown since 2008, investing $48 million. In the district, she said, are 212,000 office workers and 15,000 students, and the highest pedestrian count in New England.

The fifth annual retail tour was timed to the International Council of Shopping Centers New England Idea Exchange at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which attracted about 900 retail and commercial real-estate professionals and developers.

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Jeremy Grossman.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for

Jeremy Grossman, a principal at CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors, discussed plans for the former Border’s building as Peter Meade, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (at far left), and others looked on.

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