Wegmans, Apartments Approved For Revamped Landmark Center

Originally published Jan. 26, 2014 in Banker & Tradesman.

A $500 million revamp of the Fenway’s Landmark Center, which adds 550 apartments and the city’s first Wegmans supermarket, easily won approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Jan. 16.

The project, proposed by Samuels & Assoc. and designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, “reimagines” the 1928 Sears and Roebuck and Co. building, maintaining its historic façade with a new interior layout, complete with pedestrian passageways and a “first in class” food court. At the BRA review hearing, Samuels CEO Steven Samuels said Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement that the company planned to give up their lease by mid-2015 presented a unique opportunity to reconfigure the building.

“The stars aligned and bad news turned into good news,” Samuels said. “The hallmark piece of what we’re trying to do is essentially about connectivity.”

The new layout hinges on the developer’s commitment to replace a five-level, roughly 380,000-square-foot surface parking structure with below-grade parking. Although more expensive, Samuels said doing so removes a major physical barrier to the pedestrian flow between commercial districts in the Fenway neighborhood and the subway.

The new design allows pedestrians to walk through the building from the Fenway MBTA station to Brookline Avenue and from Fullerton Street to a new 1.3-acre landscaped park fronting Park Drive. The open space is designed to complement work currently being done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Muddy River and the Sears Rotary along with Boston’s planned multiuse path along Riverway Park, according to the project notification form filed with the BRA.

Front Door To The Fenway

“It’s the front door to the Fenway,” said Elkus Manfredi Founding Principal David Manfredi. “It’s an 8.6-acre site that will have a beautiful front yard.”

Newly elected Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim was the only public official in attendance at the hearing. He spoke briefly in support of the affordable housing offered in the plan.

“I’m very excited to hear about the on-site affordable housing,” Zakim said. “It’s very important to me and to the community.”

The project adds 550 apartments to the area, a portion of which will be affordable, along with 110,000 square feet of new retail, a 75,000 square-foot grocery space for Wegmans, the anticipated tenant, and 705,000 square feet of new office space. Samuels will finalize an affordable housing agreement with the BRA during its Article 80 review period, according to the project notification form.

Not a single person spoke in opposition to the project, although one employee from the Harvard Vanguard Medical Assoc., which sits across from Landmark Center on Fullerton Street, said he was worried additional traffic would impede patient access to the facility. Manfredi said a redesign of Fullerton Street will replace loading docks with retail frontage, creating a more attractive streetscape and reducing pedestrian conflicts.

Various representatives of the carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, sheet workers, and building trades unions spoke in favor of the plan. Project counsel, Doug Husid of Goulston & Storrs, said the project would add 600 permanent retail jobs, mostly at Wegmans, along with over 1,600 construction jobs.

“2008 and 2009 were terrible years for the building trades. We had a lot of members lose their homes and lose their jobs,” said Mark Fortune, president of the Boston Building Trades Council. “We thank Mr. Samuels for moving forward on these projects and we thank the community for allowing these projects to move forward.”

Fenway Civic Association president Bill Richardson lauded Samuels for their nearly two decades of work redeveloping the once “blighted” neighborhood. Richardson said the on-site affordable housing allows existing residents to stay in the area and the addition of open space – 1.3 acres along Park Drive and nearly an acre along Brookline Avenue – made for a “dramatic” improvement.

“(The developers) have shown strong commitments to the multiuse pathway that will provide a connection from the park up to Kenmore Square and the Yawkey Station,” Richardson said. “All those improvements around the development more than offset any impacts of density.”

Samuels & Associates has been active in the revitalization of the Fenway for over 15 years including low-rise redevelopment projects at 126 Brookline Ave., 1249-1255 Boylston St. and 1301 Boylston St. and the addition of more than 1,200 apartment units in the area that have either been completed or are permitted.

The Landmark Center was originally built as a distribution center and warehouse for Sears Roebuck and Co. and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The building was derelict for a time before The Abbey Group first restored, redeveloped and extensively modified it in 2000, adding two seven-story interior spaces that deliver natural light to interior offices. Samuels acquired the parcel in 2010.

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