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Rumble in the Fenway: Who Will Remake Its Back Bay Border?

With new apartment towers rising almost as quickly as rents, Back Bay and the Fenway are perhaps the hottest real estate submarkets in Boston. But the biggest transformation yet could be on the horizon, as MassDOT moves toward the selection of a developer for key air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Since the opening of the Boston Extension of the Pike in 1965, the area around the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Boylston Street has been characterized by a physical and psychological barrier that separates Bay Bay and the Fenway. Despite these conditions both neighborhoods have flourished. In fact, the area around Fenway Park has been transformed in recent years from a wasteland of gas stations, fast food restaurants and parking lots into a luxurious mixed-use neighborhood that attracts residents and visitors year-round even when the Red Sox aren't at home. But the best is yet to come.

MassDOT, the state agency which controls highway air rights, is currently reviewing proposals from three developers, any of which would transform the underutilized Turnpike air rights between the Fenway and Back Bay into a dense, mixed-use neighborhood of hundreds of residences, hotel rooms, dorms, retail space and nearly half a million square feet of office space.

Based upon the comments submitted to MassDOT from both the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) appointed by Mayor Tom Menino to review the proposals and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the frontrunners are:

· ADG Scotia's proposal for both a mid-rise with more than 100 housing units and 40K square feet of retail space on Parcel 12 (on the west side of Mass. Ave. between Boylston and Newbury streets) and a 32-story high-rise hotel and residential complex on Parcel 15 (on the south side of Boylston between Scotia and Dalton streets) with 111 residential units, 270 hotel rooms, and nearly 10K square feet of retail.

· Trinity Financial's proposal for a mid-rise complex with ground-floor retail, 132 housing units and 97 new dorm rooms for the nearby Boston Architectural College on Parcel 13 (on the northeast side of the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Boylston Street).

· But, as previously reported right here, Harvard-football-star-turned-developer Don Chiofaro has launched a 273-foot Hail Mary play for Parcel 15, where he has proposed a 29-story office tower that would include 30K square feet of retail space. Chiofaro has site control over a key portion of the air rights that are owned by Prudential Realty Advisers adjacent to Parcel 15 and are required to complete the deck over the Pike at the corner of Dalton and Boylston streets.

If designated, ADG Scotia says that they would move to gain control over the Prudential air rights in order to complete the deck, but that they could complete the development with or without them. This introduces a scenario in which ADG Scotia is designated by MassDOT; is unable to gain control of the Prudential air rights; and is forced to construct a project which leaves a high-profile corner of Back Bay (across from the Hynes Convention Center) exposed to the MassPike.

Alternatively, MassDOT could designate Chiofaro to develop Parcel 15, ensuring that the Turnpike would be completely covered. In this scenario, however, ADG Scotia would withdraw its proposal for the development of Parcel 12, which it has made contingent on its designation as developer of Parcel 15 as well. This would leave Trinity Financial the sole proponent for the development of Parcels 12 and 13. Trinity's Parcel 12 proposal is for a mid-rise residential complex which would include 286 housing units and 75K square feet of retail space. Their project has sparked controversy among locals, drawing opposition from the residents of the neighboring 360 Newbury luxury condo building, where views to the west would be obstructed by the development as proposed.

As MassDOT moves to designate developers for these high-profile air rights parcels, the transformation of an area between Bay Bay and the Fenway is riding on their choice. You think rents in Bay Bay and the Fenway are expensive now? In five years you might just be nostalgic for the days when the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Boylston was characterized by the wind-swept open spaces of the Massachusetts Turnpike. — A. Contributor

· As Red Sox Open, Surrounding Fenway Takes a Bow [Curbed Boston]
· Our Rental Heatmap: Where the Hub's New Apartments Are [Curbed Boston]
· Don Chiofaro Isn't Done in Back Bay: a 273-Foot Hail Mary [Curbed Boston]

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