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At the New Ink Block, Even the Men's Room Is Worth Seeing

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Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends and people you would not otherwise notice. Follow him on Twitter and check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

In 2006, National Development bought the six-acre South End lot housing the Boston Herald headquarters. The newspaper rented the space back for the next five years. Between the Herald's exit in 2011 and the groundbreaking of the Ink Block in spring 2013, the movie The Heat starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was shot on the property. And, a few weeks ago, Whole Foods and two of the Ink Block's three apartment buildings opened. Recently, Ted Tye of National Development, the developer behind the Ink Block, spent a few moments with me discussing this key Hub project that has more than 300 apartments and nearly 200 parking spaces.

After you purchased the property, how was your first development meeting with the neighbors?
I think I went into my first meeting and said, 'We want to look like the South End.' And people usually like that, but they didn't like that. They said, 'You know what, we want you to be a little bit iconic here, we want you to be an agent of change, so do something that looks really special.' That's kind of where we started.

How did that impact your development plan?
There were a lot of iterations until we came up with what we were going to actually do. We were thinking early on more high-rise. We went through a quiet period, 2008 to 2010, when no one was building anything. And we talked to people in the South End and they said, 'All we want is a full-service grocery store.' And trying to take this transitional neighborhood and trying to make it into something different, I felt like a grocery store could be the perfect anchor.

What else was important about developing the site to you?
I really felt like I wanted to scale these buildings, on a South End scale. We're eight stories at the highest and five stories at the lowest. But it just felt like this great collection of buildings. And then we hit upon this ink idea to create. We took a look at the Meatpacking District in New York. We took a look at South Beach… In Boston, there's the Leather District, there's SoWa, there's the Ladder District. We wanted to create our own place. We felt like to do that we had to build four buildings at once because if you build one building, it's not really a place. [Editor's note: National Development recently announced a fifth building on the site, a hotel; there is also a condo building called the Sepia.]

In the common areas of One and Two Ink (the two completed buildings), I've noted, among other things, a shipping container that's a mail room, a double Audrey Hepburn painting, a pixelated Fred Astaire, a Roy Lichtenstein, a 30-foot-high lobby, some creativity with the numbers on apartment doors, plentiful design hints of the former use of the building, a bike-rental station, the mandatory high-end gym and concierge, but a not so mandatory roof deck pool and indoor dog-relieving station, and, more simply put, an awful lot of creativity. Could you comment?
It's kind of like having a little surprise around every corner… This is the only building tour I ever do where we go in the men's room, 'cause it's worth seeing [for the throwback Charles Atlas ad on the bathroom wall] … We have all these little touches that feel like what was here, the Boston Herald building, that was a gritty newspaper plant for about 60 years. … It's almost like a museum because we saved a lot of cool things from the Herald.

Can you articulate a little on the thought behind having each of your apartment buildings attract different demographics?
We said that when somebody walks in here, we want to be able to show them vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. So what we've done on the outside and the inside is created a different vibe for each of the buildings. Each building has its own personality. It's not one size fits all.

Could you describe a little bit of what people will see on the outside of the development?
We want to be very connected to the South End. Whole Foods has just been a magnet, drawing people here. The themes here have been around the South End's arts and music, food and creativity and we are trying to bring an energy to the place. So, by doing the whole front of Harrison Ave. over, creating 30-foot sidewalks, it allows us to do outdoor seating, cafes, have the energy of the restaurants; and it's going to have a restaurant-focused retail, lights on late at night, Whole Foods open until ten o'clock.

What's been the early feedback?
We're about 10 percent occupied, about 30 percent leased right now, which is incredible at this stage because we have just been open two weeks.

What will I see in the Ink Block area in five years?
You're going to see a really bustling neighborhood with the Ink Block being at its core, but lots of other new developments.
· Our Bates By the Numbers archive [Curbed Boston]

The Ink Block

Harrison Avenue and Herald Street, boston, Ma