A development proposal calls for the demolition of six buildings and the construction of two office complexes in Fenway’s Kenmore Square. After acquiring the site for development from Boston University, Related Beal filed a Project Notification Form with the City in May of 2018 that outlined the proposal. The design of the buildings evolved after the community, advocacy organizations, and the Boston Civic Design Commission weighed in. Part of the consideration for the development of the site is the iconic CITGO sign, which sits atop one of the buildings (660 Beacon Street) not targeted for demolition. The design team was encouraged to create a statement corner building that does not block views to the sign. Many in the community asked Related Beal to incorporate the Westgate building at 541 Commonwealth Avenue into the new project, preserving more of the historic fabric of the square, but the development team declined to pursue that option.
The Alliance has been engaged with this site for several years, particularly in our efforts to save the CITGO sign. We have had numerous discussions with Related Beal, the Citgo Corporation, the Red Sox, BCDC, community members, and others to gauge concerns and evaluate the best solution balancing preservation with development at this location. We have expressed concerns about loss of historic fabric, loss of character and neighborhood identity, obstruction of views to the Citgo sign, and the introduction of incongruous new construction. Though we asked for the retention of the corner building at 541 Commonwealth, known as the Westgate Building, the developer was not willing to consider a rehabilitation project at this site, opting for complete demolition and new construction at this important corner of the square.
Find project documents like the Project Notification Form and public presentations including BCDC at the BPDA website.
Highlights from our activity log:
• August 27, 2018
Demolition on the site is underway, including the complete loss of the Westgate Building. Though the building that supports the Citgo Sign is not slated for demolition at this time, we are not aware of any formal agreement, in the form of a long-term lease, between Related Beal and Citgo to keep the sign in place. Both parties assured Mayor Walsh that a lease would be forthcoming back in November of 2018, prompting the Mayor to veto the Boston Landmark Commission’s designation of the Citgo Sign as a historic and protected Landmark.
• November 8, 2018
The Alliance submits a comment letter with concerns about process and preservation. The comment letter is attached below.
• November 6, 2018
Alliance staff attends BCDC meeting with the full commission, including two new members and the new Executive Director. The latest version of the project is presented which the commissioners find to satisfactorily incorporate the feedback from previous design committee meetings. After some discussion and questions about views, the Commission unanimously votes to approve the project. The proponent will now move towards BPDA approval. Commissioners note that this project highlights that there would be great benefit to earlier joint meetings with BLC on projects. Yet there was no discussion of the demolitions required of this project nor that these structures are still in BLC-imposed demolition delay.
• October 30, 2018
Alliance staff meets with Related Beal and Roger Ferris + Partners team members to discuss the proposal. An update to the design of the corner building is presented that includes a more prominent red brick articulation of the proposed Commonwealth Building at 541 Commonwealth Avenue and a stronger grid, tripartite expression for the facade of the proposed Beacon Building on Beacon Street. The proposal for glass over a terra-cotta wall on the Commonwealth Building which raised many questions has been removed. The Alliance requests more details about the team’s exploration of a concept that would rehabilitate the existing Westgate Building at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield, which the Boston Landmarks Commission determined to be preferably preserved. The project team explains that they believe this building could not work for their project for several reasons: small floor plates that are less desirable for their target tenants and they believe challenge financial viability, accessibility and code issues with the existing building, and the challenge of introducing underground parking below an existing building. Alliance staff reiterates the significance of the building and its presence on the corner, and that its loss would be detrimental to the historic character and sense of place in Kenmore Square. The Alliance also emphasizes the importance to the integrity of the Article 85 process that they demonstrate sincere and creative attempts to integrate the historic building into their plans, noting frustration that code and floor plate issues are a common, unsophisticated rationale rarely considered sufficiently convincing to us or BLC. The Alliance encourages the design team to bring any drawings, plans, or renderings to the upcoming meeting that would demonstrate their effort to design a project that incorporates the building.
Alliance staff attends the joint meeting with both the Boston Civic Design Commission and the Boston Landmarks Commission. The proponent presents the project with updated renderings and a fly-by animated video of the entire site. They show no further information on their explorations to save the Westage Building. Commissioners from BLC express disappointment and frustration that there was not a more transparent attempt to preserve the existing Westgate Building. BCDC Commissioners note that in the future BLC should be invited to conversations earlier in the process when historic resources are involved, recognizing a missed opportunity for a more collaborative process between BLC and BCDC. There is a discussion about the two proposed buildings with various feedback and suggestions. Though it is acknowledged that details are still evolving, comments regarding the general massing and design of the building are largely favorable. The project will be presented next to the full BCDC for further discussion.
• September 25, 2018
Alliance staff attends a design review meeting with the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC). At the previous BCDC meeting the plan was for the next one to be a joint meeting with the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) to discuss BLC’s concerns with the proposal, particularly the loss of the corner building at 541 Commonwealth Avenue. Unfortunately, there were scheduling conflicts and that joint meeting has been postponed to October. At this meeting BCDC discusses the proposed new building for that location as well as the proposed new building on Beacon Street. Commissioners express a number of concerns including the transparency of the glass, the design’s relationship with the context of the neighborhood, and engagement with the public realm at the street level. There are several comments from members of the public in attendance; some advocating to replace the corner building and others in favor of incorporating the building into the new design. Alliance staff states that the corner building may be salvageable and the Alliance Board (and BLC members at their meeting) expressed that the proponent’s reasons for not retaining the corner building in a new development (floor elevations in the new building do not align, accessibility issues, circulation) fail to show a full effort and creative solutions which could result in a successful project. Alliance staff noted hope that a proposal that incorporates the existing historic building could be discussed at the joint meeting with BLC to discuss its viability. If it is collectively determined that there is no feasible or preferred way to rehabilitate the existing building then the project can move forward as proposed, but the building is a valuable enough asset to the community to warrant an earnest effort to save it. Currently the Alliance feels the proposed design doesn’t rise to the level of justifying the loss.
• September 11, 2018
Alliance staff attends Article 85/Demolition Delay hearing at the Boston Landmarks Commission. The project is presented by the proponent; no photos are provided during the presentation of the current condition of any of the buildings and a structural report is not submitted or referenced. The proponent states that the buildings are in poor condition and not viable for reuse, particularly because the floor plates are not ideal for the office tenants they hope to bring to the site nor do they align with proposed new construction. The Alliance comments that we have toured the 541 Commonwealth Avenue building and agree that while it is in poor condition (the proponent notes its upper floors have been neither occupied nor maintained for decades) that Commissioners will be familiar with buildings in that condition that have been both rehabilitated and not. (Water damage to plaster, floors, outdated fixtures, etc.) Rehabilitation is possible.There are other public comments supporting preservation of 541 Commonwealth Avenue and some supporting new buildings on the site. Several members of the public speak to the historic significance of the building and its architect and its architectural contribution to the Square. The Commission invokes the 90-day delay on all buildings on the site and then hears a presentation from the proponent about their plan for the site and alternatives to demolition that they have explored. The proponent emphasizes issues with floor plate size and alignment and accessibility as reasons the existing buildings cannot be integrated into the project. The Commission hesitates to accept these conclusions and does not waive the delay. They urge more creative solutions that in particular integrate 541 Commonwealth Avenue but also asks for new construction that is more contextual to the Square. Therefore, the owner of these buildings must secure them from damage until December 11, 2018 at which time they may proceed with demolition if they have secured the permits to do so. There is a yet-to-be scheduled joint meeting between BLC and the Civic Design Commission on this project that was noted.
• July 26, 2018
Alliance staff tour the corner building at 541 Commonwealth Avenue to assess condition. Staff discusses rehabilitation options with Related Beal team members and makes plans for further dialogue about the current proposal for the site. Photos below.
• June 26, 2018
Alliance staff attends BCDC design review meeting. Two Commissioners are present and provide feedback; no public comment is taken. Three options are presented for the Commonwealth Building and three for the Beacon Building. In total, six existing buildings are proposed for demolition at 541 Commonwealth Avenue through 650 Beacon Street (not 660 Beacon Street) and new construction. Preserving views to the Citgo Sign, a pending Boston Landmark, is a consideration in the design of the Commonwealth Building. Commissioners urge the architect to design a strong, statement building to anchor the corner of the square. There is no discussion of incorporating the existing buildings into the project. Commissioners in attendance encourage further development of Scheme 2 of corner and Scheme A of mid-block buildings The proponent will return for further design review.
• June 11, 2018
Alliance staff submits comment letter, below, to the BPDA.
• June 6, 2018
Alliance staff attend the public Impact Advisory Group meeting. The proponent summarizes the project and responds to questions and concerns from IAG members. Most of the concerns from this group involve traffic patterns and pedestrian safety but the group is generally supportive of the proposal.
• June 5, 2018
Alliance staff attends BCDC meeting. After the presentation from the proponent, Commissioners ask a number of questions about the design, the pedestrian realm, and views to the CITGO sign. They push for a reconsideration of the design of the new corner building, asking for a strong statement but push for something that fits within the context and typology of the neighborhood. Some speak negatively of the proposed design: “impoverished, suburban” and “wrong for the site and Kenmore Square” urging a serious reworking of the proposal. Alliance Executive Director, Greg Galer, after thanking commissioners for recognizing the importance of context, comments that the new design at the corner should anchor the square and be as architecturally compelling as the historic building they plan to demolish. The project will be reviewed by the design subcommittee.
• May 17, 2018
Alliance staff meets with the project team from Related Beal and reviews updated renderings of the design of the corner building and discusses the plan to demolish three red brick buildings on Beacon Street for a new building. Staff expresses concern at the significant loss of historic fabric at this site, especially in light of other anticipated developments in the square that will significantly alter the character of the neighborhood. Staff also expresses concern with the proposal for the design of the corner building, noting that it does not respond to the existing architecture in the square. The project team shows an alternative design with a higher podium and less glass, which staff feels is a better direction for this site.
• May 10, 2018
Related Beal files a Project Notification Form with the BPDA, found here.
• December 1, 2017
Alliance staff meet with Related Beal to discuss general concepts for project and massing of potential new building which needs to preserve views to the CITGO sign.
In the News
“An icon of the Boston skyline was very nearly protected against the city’s current rapacious development culture- but then the mayor stepped in.”
Mayor Walsh, Citgo, Related Beal (the developer of the site), and Boston University release a statement:
The debate over the future of the Citgo sign is still quietly grinding on.
Developer Related Beal on Tuesday went before the Boston Civic Design Commission to submit its updated plans to redevelop buildings on Commonwealth Avenue near Deerfield Street.
Emily Kahn, Boston Preservation Alliance Intern