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Guest donaltopablo

Fort Point Channel 400 mln dollar redevelopment

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I'll try to find a rendering. Sounds like a cool project for beantown.

Changing the channel

A $400M complex gears up for occupancy and underscores Fort Point's major redevelopment

Mary K. Pratt

Special to the Journal

Beacon Capital Partners LLC is banking on the notion that the old Fort Point Channel district is the city's next up-and-coming neighborhood.

The Boston real estate investment firm is putting more than $400 million into building Channel Center, a large mixed-use development at 229 A Street in the heart of this oft-overlooked quarter. The project involves 1.55 million square feet of space -- some new, some rehabbed -- that includes residential, commercial and retail units.

It's a lot to gamble for a district that today is barely considered a neighborhood. But Beacon Capital Partners sees its potential.

"It's kind of a hidden jewel that's been under everyone's noses," said Bob Palumbo, vice president of development for Beacon Capital Partners and project director for Channel Center.

The Fort Point Channel district is changing. Channel Center is helping to usher in that change, but it's hardly the only development that's bringing the rundown district into the 21st century. Improved access, upgraded infrastructure, strong city support and growth along the South Boston waterfront have all contributed to the resurgence of interest in the area.

"The ongoing and proposed improvements turns it into a resource, and it's a great resource," said Paul C. Bauer, a partner working in the real estate practice in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, a Pittsburgh-based law firm.

The Channel Center development calls for the renovation of 14 historic buildings and the replacement of four dilapidated ones on 7.1 acres running along A Street and the former Midway Street, since renamed Channel Center Street. It will include 400 to 450 residential units; more than 800,000 square feet of office and commercial space in a mix of new Class A units and renovated historic structures; and more than 100,000 square feet of retail space. The project also includes a 200-seat performing-arts center.

Palumbo said occupancy for the first lofts is scheduled for February or March, with occupancy on 76 modern residences set for next July.

Beacon Capital is developing Channel Center on property it bought from Boston Wharf Co. in 2000. Boston Wharf, once the largest property manager in the Fort Point neighborhood, began selling off its holdings in the area about a decade ago. In July, it sold 44 buildings to New York Based Tishman Speyer Properties for $500 million -- a deal that caused nerves to jangle among the 400 folks who make up Fort Point's artist colony, many of whom rent space in the buildings that Boston Wharf sold.

The district is bounded by the Fort Point Channel and the Reserve Channel, which separates it from South Boston proper. It doesn't reach the South Boston waterfront, but officials said the development there is certainly crucial to the rejuvenating the area.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is working on a plan for the district's 100 acres, which includes property owned by Gillette Co. and the U.S. Postal Service. City officials are in the early stages of creating this so-called 100-acre plan, but already Kairos Shen, the BRA's director of planning, said the city envisions an 18-hour district, a neighborhood with a mix of residential, retail and commercial units.

"We're expecting an environment that's different from downtown," Shen said.

The city's focus on this area is just one of the factors that have come together to create this newfound interest in the district.

Completed infrastructure improvements, including the third harbor tunnel and the MBTA's new Silver Line, certainly have made access to the area easier. Proposed improvements, such as the pedestrian walkway to Fan Pier and the Harborwalk greenbelt, will make the area even more accessible, industry insiders said.

"These improvements will make the Channel District far more attractive to live and work in than it has ever been," Bauer said.

Nearby development, particularly along the waterfront, has also made the district much more desirable. The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, the new Seaport Hotel and the new federal courthouse are just a few of the new structures helping to transform the overall area.

The importance of this change isn't lost on businesses.

"We've made a long-term commitment to the area, and we believe it will continue to improve in the future. Specifically, the Fort Point Channel area will be an important location as development continues in this emerging section of Boston," Boston-based Fidelity Investments said in a prepared statement.

Manulife Financial, the Canadian insurance giant that recently bought Boston mainstay John Hancock Financial Services Inc., has likewise invested in the region -- to the tune of $140 million. The company is building a 14-story, 470,000-square-foot, Class A office tower at 601 Congress St., or Parcel F-1 of Massport's Commonwealth Flats development area. There will be ground-floor retail along D and Congress streets. Construction should be completed next year.

"Coming in at the early stages allowed Manulife to develop a signature building in an emerging area, with all the makings of a vibrant urban environment. It's a great opportunity with tremendous growth potential," said Tina Acranis, a spokeswoman in Manulife's real estate division.

Despite the seeming building boom, don't expect changes overnight.

The BRA's Shen is looking at plans that will cover the next 30 to 40 years. The whole area, he said, can accommodate 27 million new square feet.

Not much can rush that kind of new space.

"The market itself will determine that buildings will be built when they can be occupied," Shen said.

Developers also face obstacles in the district, too. They're dealing with large landowners, private streets and brownfields -- contaminated and often vacant urban properties. And they're working in a flat economy, where keeping momentum alive can be a challenge.

Some area residents also see challenges in getting the right mix of uses as development pushes ahead. They also complain that residents haven't been given enough say in the district's future.

"People are concerned with where the neighborhood will end up," said Steve Hollinger, a founding member of the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design, a loosely formed group of residents and businesses.

Hollinger, a sculptor and inventor who lives and works in Fort Point Place, said he and other group members want to see the right mix of residential, office and retail units needed to maintain a lively neighborhood. They also want to see friendly street-level spaces, inviting streetscapes and pedestrian-friendly traffic designs.

"There are certainly concerns for us as development occurs that there will be open space, attention paid to traffic," said Cheryl Forte, a board member of the Fort Point Cultural Coalition. "It's a neighborhood. We know it's changing but we want it to remain a neighborhood where artists can live and work."

Forte is also working as the project manager for the Midway Studios initiative, a $23 million undertaking by the Fort Point Development Collaborative that will include 89 live-work artist studios, a 200-seat-black-box theatre and a cafe along Channel Center Street.

While residents are concerned about their neighborhood's future, they did cite Beacon Capital Partner's Channel Center project as a positive addition.

"They developed something that fits really well," Hollinger said. "Even among the artist community, people who are being displaced, there's a general sense that Beacon is trying to work effectively to make things happen."

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Here's some construction pictures from September. This is an interesting project in that it is in a dense old industrial area inhabited mainly by artists, near downtown and the new convention center. The convention center can be seen at the end of the street in the first photo. There is no substantially cleared area, only what you see.

fishin0126.jpg

fishin0127.jpg

fishin0129.jpg

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Are they building the new mid rise section (not sure how tall it is going to be) of this development, or is this construction some other part of the development?

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This construction was along A Street so I believe this is the tower under construction. Maybe I can find some more info to confirm that.

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I did see a rendering a while ago but can't find it anywhere. It was a blue glass building or mayber two of them each about 12 stories tall. This was a least a year ago, and I have heard nothing more since.

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Thanks for the photos. It doesn't look lilke much now, but with all that's going on over there it will in a couple of years. Just think, if it weren't for Bob Durand, Chapter 91?, and Nimby's there might be something going up on the parking lot in the foreground too.

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