The Hub: An impressive front door to Garden, N. Station

Semi-public space provides a link to city’s sports past

NOT LONG AGO, attending a game at TD Garden or taking a train out of North Station meant you would need to come and go through a nondescript side door. There was no real front entrance, and little besides the sheer size of the two facilities to distinguish the sports arena and transit center from their surroundings.

“It was very plain,” said Joe Aiello, northeast field coordinator for the Rail Passenger Association. “Here’s a big concrete wall. Here’s a walkway. Just go and get on your train. There was nothing pleasing about it. It felt very sterile.”

No longer. There are big changes afoot at North Station, where a once drab but historic empty lot is giving way to a new high-end cultural hub, complete with a music hall, cinema, and a grand portal connecting bustling Causeway Street to the commuter rail platform and the arena, home to big concerts and big games.

It’s the final puzzle piece of a decades-long transformation of a part of the city that has never been quite right since the old Boston Garden was demolished in 1998. As gleaming towers rose in other parts of the city, the lot in front of the West End train terminal remained empty. But now the area has filled in and a covered plaza with big signs for the arena and railway station serves as the new front door. Dubbed The Hub by developers, that 60-foot-wide, 100-foot-tall area offers a space that can be used for farmers markets, art fairs, and other events, according to documents on file with the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

The plaza, which sits on the footprint of the old Garden, also gives a nod to its celebrated past, with inlay in the floor marking the exact spot of a faceoff circle on the long-gone rink and the free throw line on the old parquet, according to Delaware North, which owns the stadium and whose chairman Jeremy Jacobs is owner of the Boston Bruins.

While the massive construction project was designed by the international architecture firm Gensler, the idea to put the old markings in the new floor came from the developers – a joint venture between Delaware North and Boston Properties.

“The spirit of the old Garden is being resurrected in this new space,” said Ted Landsmark, a member of the board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency who previously helmed the Boston Architectural College and now runs a public policy institute at Northeastern University.

The yellow brick used on much of the façade of the new development is an homage to the look of the old arena.

A mural near the TD Garden depicts the look of the old Boston Garden, complete with the old elevated Green Line track. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

“I am not a trained architectural critic, but after decades of shuffling into North Station through the side doors, I can tell you it sure is nice to feel welcomed at an iconic new front door,” said Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts. “It’s a big improvement. For those of us who remember the elevated Green Line on Causeway and the Penalty Box pub, it’s amazing to think of the transformation Causeway Street has undergone in the last two decades.”

Andy Monat, a board member of the advocacy group TransitMatters who regularly passes through North Station between his home in Melrose and work in East Cambridge, said he is looking forward to the area becoming more lively on nights when there is no game or concert.

“We spent the ’50s and ’60s destroying all of the West End, which was a dense walkable neighborhood, and putting up these frankly really depressing towers and parks that had nothing to draw people to them,” Monat said. “As there are more people there and it stops feeling like just a commute point and more like part of the city, I think it will be a nicer experience.”

The Hub will be a new semi-public space in Boston, but subject to some particular rules. A sign at the plaza informs those who plan to engage in “Non-Commercial Expressive Activity for ballot access, political, religious, or education speech purposes” may do so, but they must fill out a registration, provide 24-hour notice about the activity, and wear a personal identification badge “providing name, address, phone number and organization, if any.” Panhandling, begging, spitting, and lying down or sitting on the floor are specifically prohibited, according to the sign.

The grand entrance and plaza is only one feature of the development. A 440-unit, 38-story residential tower is expected to open this fall though construction will continue into next year, and the Boston Business Journal reported that CitizenM, a 272-room Dutch hotel opened in the $1.2 billion redevelopment earlier this year. An office tower, with Verizon as an anchor tenant, is still under construction and is expected to be complete in 2021. Rapid7, a technology security company, is the anchor tenant for another portion of the development dubbed Uptown at The Hub.

The biggest park nearby the new development is a little square overlooking Interstate 93 and the Zakim Bridge, with a statue of Bruins great Bobby Orr. While references to basketball and hockey permeate the new development, it will create new nightlife opportunities for those who don’t know an alley-oop from a hat trick.

ArcLight Cinemas is slated to open its first movie theater in the Northeast at North Station. The California company owns Los Angeles’s historic Dome cinema on Sunset Boulevard, which is used for major film premiers. ArcLight boast that it presents “films the way filmmakers intended moviegoers to experience them” with a top-end sound system, a black-box theater to eliminate distractions, a full bar, and no commercials. There will be 14 screens, and the theater is expected to open later this year.

Big Night Live, a music hall backed by Big Night Entertainment and Live Nation is also expected to open this fall. The venue will accommodate 1,500 people, and the space will be decorated with oversized red chandeliers, wood walls, “pod seating,” and VIP tables with bottle service. The promoters hope to attract artists from a wide range of musical styles, and they are selling tickets for shows starting in early November for the ska band The Interrupters. Another show on the calendar is a performance by the old school hip hop duo of Mos Def, or Yasiin Bey, and Talib Kweli known as Black Star.

The yellow brick of a new North Station development and the sign for an old bar both harken to the historical nature of the neighborhood, which was the home court and home ice to some of the most storied Boston Bruins and Celtics teams. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The music venue will be right down the street from the Converse headquarters, where the shoe company opened a recording studio called Rubber Tracks. It’s easy to imagine some creative synergy between the incoming venues and others working nearby.

Within Big Night Live, Studio B will be an event space with wood rafters, large windows and enough space to accommodate 440 guests, according to a spokesperson.

Elsewhere in the new development, patrons can drink and dine at Guy Fieri’s Tequila Cocina, a 185-seat restaurant with more than 100 tequilas available; Hub Hall, one place with 18 different eating options; or Banners Kitchen & Tap, a multilevel sports bar. The Star Market located right off the covered plaza will be 60,000 square-feet making it the city’s largest grocery store in an area that has lacked an affordable supermarket. The construction project also includes “in-arena enhancements” and improvements to the locker rooms and backstage areas of the TD Garden.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Around 50,000 commuters pass through North Station every day, and the TD Garden, home to the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins, draws 3.5 million guests per year, according to the developers. A tunnel connecting the commuter rail to the Green and Orange line platforms – providing a new sheltered walkway for transit riders – opened in January, about three years after the groundbreaking on the massive development project. Starting in 2021, the North Station area will benefit from a new stream of transit commuters as the Green Line Extension is slated to start service at that time.

While it will usher in a new era for the neighborhood, permitting for the Hub on Causeway traces back to the administration of the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The Boston Redevelopment Authority approved the first iteration of the project on December 19, 2013, less than a month before Mayor Marty Walsh took office.