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Vacant Filene's Site Stealing Menino's Mojo

Today's the day for the kick-off of construction of one of Boston's biggest new towers in ages: the 27-story, glass-and-stone, 381-unit apartment tower, The Kensington, at the corner LaGrange and Washington streets in Downtown Crossing. The project has long been the apple of Mayor Menino's eye, a jewel in the gentrification crown his administration has carefully been assembling in a struggling area of the city. The Kensington construction kick-off, in fact, culminates eight years of struggle to fill the site of the old Gaiety Theatre.

What would really top things off, as it were, in Downtown Crossing is the resumption of construction of a 39-story apartment tower at the old Filene's site at Washington and Franklin streets. The tower was meant to anchor a new business improvement district, spinning off not only housing for new residents but retail leases as well. Construction stalled in 2008, however, and it's been a corker of a controversy ever since, with New York-based developer Steven Roth once bragging that he was letting the site struggle to wrest concessions from the city (you should see the letter Menino wrote him about that).

Now, Menino's people seem to have struck a conciliatory tone with Roth's company, Vornado Realty Trust. The Kensington will soon be under way. Retail leases for a Capital One, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, hell, a Chipotle have been signed! If only the administration could get the Filene's site going, all would be golden. Per Casey Ross in The Globe today:

"To make the area vibrant you need to tie down the retail at that location," said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate association. The Filene's site, he said, "is just too big a hole in the retail market."

Menino's development chief, Peter Meade, appeared to offer an olive branch of sorts to Vornado Realty Trust by suggesting recently in a speech that the New York developer will be part of the solution to restarting construction at the site. Months ago, the Menino administration revoked Vornado's building permit and threatened to take the property by eminent domain because of inaction at the site.

For now, Vornado and the city are still talking. No one, it seems, wants to tarnish the king's crown just yet.

· Towering Hopes for Downtown [Globe]

· Rooftop Pool to Crown New Downtown Crossing Tower [Curbed Boston]

· Steve Roth, Uncorked [New York Observer]

Photo of the Filene's site courtesy of The Globe

The Kensington

659-665 Washington Street, Boston, MA

The Kensington

659-665 Washington Street, Boston, MA