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WGBH unveils its new moving plans

By Josh B. Wardrop / Staff Writer

Friday, November 14, 2003

Those in attendance at the Nov. 6 meeting of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association got the usual inside track on zoning issues and neighborhood concerns, but this time, they also got something else. Those residents were among the first to learn details of public television station WGBH's plans to move from its current headquarters on Western Avenue in Allston to a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility at Brighton Landing, just in the shadow of the New Balance building.

According to Jeanne Hopkins, WGBH's vice president of Corporate Communications, the ever-expanding Harvard University - from whom the station leases part of its sprawling Allston property - gave WGBH the initial impetus to make the move. "Harvard has been interested in buying the property we own at 114 Western Ave," said Hopkins. "That led us to begin discussions about moving out of Harvard's way, while at the same time looking to consolidate our operations, which are currently spread out through about 12 buildings."

A search for alternate locations began, with WGBH looking to stay in the metro-Boston area. Eventually, they settled upon a two-part site at Brighton Landing: an existing shell of a seven-story building beside New Balance; and the old BFI site at the corner of Market and North Beacon streets.

At the BAIA meeting, WGBH Head of Design Chris Pullman unveiled the tentative architectural plan for the new studios: a design that has WGBH making use of the existing seven-story building and linking it - via an elevated glass level of offices that would extend over the intersecting truck route, Guest Street - with a newly built, much shorter building.

"The whole point was to try and push the new project downward," said Hopkins. "We felt that we could better fit the neighborhood and skyline by building a lower building."

The project, which has an estimated construction cost of $84 million, is targeted to begin in September 2004, with the demolition of the existing BFI structure. The folks at WGBH hope to be able to officially move public television to Brighton in spring of 2006.

Plans for the new WGBH headquarters include housing three TV studios and one radio studio all within one main building. Hopkins said that the local PBS affiliate envisions an environment that is compact and functional enough to lend itself to tours and other ways of welcoming the community at large. "We're hoping to build a small auditorium where we can show screenings of special PBS programs to audiences, and we also hope to have some space we can make available for public organizations' usage. Right now, a lot of people don't know where we are - this will make us a lot more visible."

Perhaps most intriguing, the tentative designs for the new WGBH studios also revealed a unique visual aspect to the building. A portion of the building that faces the Massachusetts Tunrpike will feature a constantly changing "skin," as Hopkins put it. Utilizing digital technology, this portion of the building's exterior may feature anything from images of moving clouds or waterfalls, to a clock, to depictions of WGBH characters like Arthur or the cast of "Sesame Street."

"Our goal is to make the building alive, somehow, and to express the information and creativity going on inside," said Hopkins.

With the sale of the properties "basically complete," according to Hopkins, the most significant hurdle that remains is approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority for the audacious plan of building over Guest Street. "If the city felt that wasn't allowable, we'd need to alter plans pretty quickly," Hopkins admitted, "but we'd like to think that things will proceed as planned."

Concerns raised at the BAIA meeting included the impact that the WGBH move would have on Brighton traffic around Market Street, as well as the omnipresent bugbear of city living, parking. The new studios would bring with them approximately 850-900 WGBH employees into Brighton, but Hopkins assured residents that steps are being taken to provide answers to these pressing questions.

"The existing parking garage at Brighton Landing, which we will share, has enough parking for our current staff," said Hopkins. "We do, however, realize that we'll be bringing in a lot of cars and people who aren't in Brighton now, and we are conducting both daytime and nighttime traffic studies to gather information."

The BAIA meeting was just the first step, Hopkins says, in WGBH's plans to involve the community and keep them apprised of goings-on involving the move. They also plan to go before the Allston Civic Association and Allston Village Main Streets in the coming months. "I would think, with a project like this, that a community task force may be formed, which was suggested at the BAIA meeting," she said. "That would be welcomed - we're very interested in having interaction with community leaders and hearing their concerns about the project."

From Allston-Brighton TAB

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  • 7 months later...

WGBH plans draw criticism

By Josh B. Wardrop/ Staff Writer

Friday, June 25, 2004

Boston's local public television station, WGBH, is learning that they'll need to have a thick skin in negotiating the community process that comes with its planned move from Western Avenue to Brighton Landing. And they're also learning that it's better if that "skin" isn't too flashy, either.

At the June 16 meeting of the Allston Civic Association, WGBH spokeswoman Jeanne Hopkins handed around a color graphic elaborating on the station's plans to equip the northern end of the "beam" which connects the two proposed studio buildings with a large LED screen, or "skin," upon which images will be projected. Seeking to allay fears that the screen would be used as an advertising tool, Hopkins said that the decision had been made to "limit the displays to images rather than ads for [WGBH] shows - there would be very few, if any, words displayed. We're hoping to create a digital mural - a piece of art that moves gradually and calmly."

It's that digital "skin," however, that some neighbors are concerned about - as a disruption not only to the residential neighborhoods in Allston, but also to passing motorists on the Mass. Pike. "I personally don't think that it's a good idea to attract eyes away from cars, many of whom are doing 70 miles per hour, especially as they're coming up to a toll booth," said ACA President Paul Berkeley, citing the recent accident in which a truck driver was killed when he collided with a booth at the Allston-Brighton tolls.

Mary-Helen Black, a resident of Franklin Street in Allston, thought that the ACA supporting the LED feature of the WGBH building might be a bit contradictory and unfair, given their rejection of a recent proposal by Clear Channel Entertainment to erect new billboards. "We put a moratorium on billboards in this neighborhood," said Black, "and I feel we need to be consistent [with that], whether we're talking about a not-for-profit corporation or a for-profit, a 'calm' display, or an active display. I don't see something like this benefiting Allston, or adding to the quality of life."

WGBH's plans for their new studios were scheduled to be discussed in greater length this week at a BRA Article 80 review meeting. Jim Gribaudo of the BRA also announced that the public comment period on the project is active until July 9, and that residents could e-mail any concerns about the project to him at [email protected]

Also discussed at the meeting was a proposal by Nolan Brothers Self-Storage to erect a facility at 145 North Beacon St., on the site of a former brake manufacturing plant. The project is also currently undergoing Large Project Review by the BRA under the Article 80 process.

Business co-owner John Nolan described plans to reface the existing single-story structure at 145 Beacon, which would serve as the business' office, and add a two-story addition, approximately 42 feet high, set approximately 125 feet back from North Beacon Street. Nolan described the average clients of self-storage facilities as "people in the process of moving between residences, empty-nesters looking to add space and professionals, such as doctors, who store files." He also described the presence of a large storage facility as "a low-impact, non-intrusive use, which generates very little traffic."

Pleased with Nolan's drawings, which depicted an increase of trees and greenery on the front of the property, as well as the elimination of one middle curbcut emptying from the parking lot onto North Beacon Street, ACA members in attendance voted to support the proposal. Plans call for the project to begin construction soon, and open sometime in early 2006.

ACA members also voted in favor of a proposal to simply add an amendment of use to a property at 294 Lincoln St. The new owner of the building, Steven Chapman, is seeking to add to the existing use - garage with auxiliary office space - to include permission to store and sell antique cars, by appointment only.

The ACA opposed a request for a beer and wine license by the Suji Corporation for an existing restaurant at 204 Harvard Ave.

From The Allston-Brighton TAB

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  • 3 months later...

WGBH getting ready to break ground

By Erin Smith/ Staff Writer | Friday, October 15, 2004

WGBH will likely break ground on its new Brighton headquarters before year's end, WGBH officials announced this week.

The local public television and radio station has spent the past two years planning its relocation to Brighton Landing on Market Street, between North Beacon Street and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

WGBH is currently beginning the abatement process which is being handled by GZA Environmental Services of Norwood, said WGBH spokesperson Lucy Sholley. WGBH has already received permits from the city to remove hazardous waste from the site and begin demolition. Crews will remove hazardous material such as fluorescent lights, oil separators and asbestos from the buildings on the site from Oct. 18 through Nov. 1, said Sholley. Demolition will begin on Nov. 1 and should take place during weekday business hours in order to minimize noise pollution, Sholley said.

Throughout the community feedback process of construction planning, WGBH's construction plans have been smudged by controversy over a proposal to add an electronic LED screen, or "skin," that would extend over the Massachusetts Turnpike, projecting television images from WGBH programming. Community members have also been concerned that the new building would increase Market Street's traffic congestion.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is hosting a 45-day public comment period following WGBH's preliminary construction plans, which was filed with the BRA on Sept. 29. WGBH will present construction plans to the BRA Board in a public hearing on Dec. 2.

From Allston-Brighton TAB

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