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Changes announced for first step of Quincy Center redevelopment

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 26, 2013 05:59 PM

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Big changes have been announced for the $130 million Merchant’s Row development in Quincy Center, with an announcement that the 15-story residential building will shift to a six-story building and overtake more property.

New drawings in the first phase of the $1.6 billion redevelopment show residential buildings will splay out in three buildings, and retail space will increase 60 percent on the site as Street-Works develops more properties on the block. Parking spaces will be provided on one level as opposed to two.

The buildings have retained their same character and feel, and the public outdoor areas have been increased by 50 percent. Alba’s will still anchor the block moving forward.

“We said with the additional site, [we could] build the same number of units we had in the tower, but low rise now, and keep the quality of the units, keep the loft, keep the same customer experience, and have a lower cost,” said Richard Heapes, co-founder of developer Street-Works.

The decision was only partially based on the rising cost of construction in and around the Boston area. Several tenants who had previously declined to sell to Street-Works also came back to the table, opening up the construction area for the developer to work with on the block.

“Our original scheme was based on a site a certain size, purely based on who we had existing contracts with. … We had a couple people at the end of the day weren’t prepared to sell, so we had to roll on and move on,” Heapes said. “We figured it out, we start to knock buildings down, and those people said would you like to have a conversation again.”

According to Heapes, though the building will switch from steel to wood and be configured much differently, the alterations will not need additional Planning Board approval. The changes will go before both the City Council and the Planning Board for review.

Though the square footage allotted to retail uses will increase, meeting the demand currently existing in the market, Heapes said, the square footage for residential and commercial properties will stay the same in the redevelopment as a whole.

Also remaining basically unchanged will be the timeline, Heapes said. Apartments will still be available by 2015. Street-Works will make up for the time lost in additional demolition with the significantly less digging involved in making a one-story parking garage as opposed to two.

“We control more of the block, have more street retail, bigger public space while maintaining the same ... quality for less cost,” Heapes said.

Though the look of the first phase of construction has become shorter and wider, Heapes said the shift most likely wouldn’t carry forward for the duration of the development.

“I don’t expect over the course of all Quincy Center for costs to be going up. They will stop at some point, fluctuate, as we establish new Quincy Center in this first phase,” Heapes said.

The change was announced by Street-Works on Monday afternoon, and comes only weeks after the developer parted ways with Related Beal and renewed focus with Twining Properties.

Despite the change in partnerships, Heapes said their addition had influence on the configuration of the units inside the buildings, rather than on the overall height change.

Officials in the mayor’s office did not return repeated calls for comment on the potential changes. However, the alterations still leave a lot of unanswered questions for other city officials.

“The acquisition of new buildings means a new mix of street-level retail, and mixed use, which is perfect. Gives you a longer playing field up and down Cottage [Avenue] to set back everything and have it conform, so I get that,” said City Councilor Doug Gutro, chairman of the Downtown Committee, prior to the announcement. “But I want to know not just for Merchant’s Row but the entirety of the project: How does this change the mix of commercial, retail, residential?”

Gutro said he has compiled a resolution to be announced at the Sept. 3 City Council meeting asking for a cumulative update on Merchant’s Row and the entire downtown project.

“This modification could be something more enticing than the original plan,” Gutro said. “I’ll withhold judgment until I see it. All things being equal, it’s an encouraging sign that new partners are coming on board and looking to do more, not less.”

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