Chiofaro proposes smaller towers

BRA officials quickly dismiss $1 billion project

Boston developer Don Chiofaro unveiled a new, smaller design for his Harbor Garage redevelopment project today, but the $1 billion project was quickly dismissed by city officials and the proposed project’s abutters at Harbor Towers.

Chiofaro bought the Harbor Garage site for $153 million in 2007. He later filed plans to raze the urban renewal-era structure, which sits between Boston Harbor and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Chiofaro says he received early encouragement from city officials to replace the concrete garage with a significant new complex, but Boston Redevelopment Authority planners have recently said they won’t permit anything taller than 200 feet along the Greenway site. Original plans called for the structure to top out near 780 feet, a height that would make it taller than the Prudential Center tower.

Under the redesign Chiofaro released today, the taller tower in his two-tower waterfront complex, which would contain condominiums and a hotel, has been reduced to 615 feet, or roughly the height of the Federal Reserve tower; the shorter office tower would rise to 471 feet, around the height of the Millennium Place towers. Both towers feature an angular design meant to open up new view corridors between the waterfront and the Financial District.

“I hope this starts a brand new dialogue with the city,” Chiofaro said. “Frankly, it’s inexplicable we’ve had as much difficulty as we’ve had. The benefits are undeniable.”

proposals 

 The previous proposal (left)
and new proposal (right).

Chiofaro’s new Harbor Garage designs would open the waterfront and the New England Aquarium to the Greenway by relocating the Aquarium’s IMAX theater inside his complex’s retail pavilion, and uprooting a small park adjacent to the garage, which is controlled by the real estate arm of Fidelity Investments. The developer, who introduced himself to a roomful of reporters by saying, “I’m Don Chiofaro, controversial developer,” said he has had “very friendly conversations” with Fidelity and the Aquarium, but no agreements in hand.

The latest development plans were released after the Boston Redevelopment Authority formally adopted Greenway development guidelines capping development at the garage site at 200 feet. Chiofaro’s proposed towers would eclipse that mark by several hundred feet. BRA planners have previously said they will seek to write the new Greenway guidelines into the city’s zoning code.

Today’s announcement drew a quick rebuke from the trustees of Harbor Towers, the condominium complex that abuts Chiofaro’s garage.

“Don Chiofaro and partner Prudential have not shown us, his closest neighbors, anything,” said Harbor Garage spokesman Tom Palmer, “but it appears they went through a hollow effort to try to drum up support for a project that doesn’t come close to meeting city and state requirements, reconfiguring neighbors’ properties and ignoring their concerns in the process.”

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree also declined to address Chiofaro’s latest set of drawings. “We will not use scarce resources to respond to the latest PR scheme for this site,” she said. Elsbree said the BRA would only respond to the new designs if Chiofaro filed plans for formal development review.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino previously told the Boston Herald Chiofaro’s chances of replacing the Harbor Garage with a pair of towers were “about as likely as an 80-degree day in January,” saying, “It’s too big. His chances are slim to none.”

Meet the Author

Paul McMorrow

Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

Chiofaro acknowledged his new plans don’t meet the BRA’s new 200-foot limit, but said anything less than the new 1.3 million square-foot plan would be economically infeasible. He noted the project would generate about $19 million in annual tax revenue for the city and $23 million for the state, and he pledged to invest $50 million in neighborhood improvements, provide nearly $17 million in linkage and affordable housing money, and lead the effort to launch a business improvement district for the Greenway.

“What’s at stake is the most important place on the Greenway, where the city and the Financial District can make a statement about themselves and how they feel about the future,” he argued. “This is a real opportunity for the mayor, and we really hope he’ll step up as the leader of the city, bring opportunity to place where we can execute it. He does a great job, and we’d love his support.”

(For more on the Harbor Garage saga, read “Just plain ugly.”)