For Boston sports fans, the site of The Hub on Causeway development is hallowed ground. The land was once occupied by Boston Garden—the home of two professional sports teams, the Bruins in hockey and Celtics in basketball—which was demolished in 1998. The new arena, TD Garden, was built on adjacent land, and for years the old Garden site was a parking lot, with few signs of its former glory.
This fall—The Hub on Causeway—one of the most ambitious mixed-use developments in the Northeast, opens its first phase on the former Garden site. The $1.2 billion project—a codevelopment of developer Boston Properties and Delaware North, owner of the TD Garden and the Bruins—includes 1.5 million square feet (139,000 sq m) of mixed-use retail, office, hotel, and residential space sitting atop a busy transit hub.
The project will also include a 60,000-square-foot (5,600 sq m) grocery store, the largest in the city, in a neighborhood that until recently had been largely overlooked by developers.
“This really is pioneering in many ways for this neighborhood,” says Bryan Koop, executive vice president of the Boston region for Boston Properties. “The challenge was to energize the neighborhood, which didn’t have a significant retail or office environment.”
The Hub on Causeway will change the character of the neighborhood in many ways. The office component may be the first in Boston specifically designed to attract technology, advertising, media, and information (TAMI) tenants—the type of companies that typically had avoided north Boston. The retail center will be more of an entertainment center than a shopping mall, with theaters and a concert venue, as well as Boston’s largest food hall. The hotel will be operated by Netherlands-based Citizen M, a “luxury hybrid” designed to attract a younger generation of travelers.
At its core, the project has ambitious goals and faced myriad challenges that go far beyond those facing a typical mixed-use project. In addition to creating a new destination for the neighborhood, it had to be integrated with North Station, which handles more than 160 million Boston Metro and commuter-rail passengers a year. And, perhaps most important, it needed to create a new grand entrance to TD Garden, recognizing the history and legacy of the site, which remains a treasured place among Boston sports fans.
Delaware North, a private company owned by the Jacobs family for 100 years, was in no rush to redevelop the site after the demolition of Boston Garden. The firm is a lifestyle and hospitality company by nature, and the family was wary of getting into the development business, says Charlie Jacobs, chief executive of Delaware North’s Boston Holdings. One of its primary goals was to protect “a generational asset,” he says.
“We’re a family-owned business,” Jacobs says. “We take the long view.”
The Jacobses were inspired by a wave of mixed-use projects next to arenas, including those in St. Louis, Toronto, and Detroit, where commerce merges with team spirit. “It’s a tribal experience being around [these developments],” Jacobs says. “It’s the way sports is evolving.” In addition, there were “a lot of community needs that needed to be addressed,” which changed the dynamic of the development process, he says.
The neighborhood, part of an area known as the Bulfinch Triangle, is largely industrial and working class, with old warehouses and local stores. The blocks were once dominated by an elevated train and Interstate 93, which were both moved underground over the years, changing the landscape of the neighborhood. Plans for the site were originally developed in the 1980s, even before Boston Garden was demolished, but never were able to get off the ground.
When Boston Properties started talking to residents, a grocery store was a clear priority. The area was a true food desert with no supermarkets for miles. The neighborhood formed a committee specifically to lobby for a supermarket. “They really showed us it was imperative to get a grocery store in the neighborhood,” Koop says.
The Boston Garden site presented its own challenges. The buildable area is only about two acres (0.8 ha) and was completely closed off by the existing buildings and highways. It was also understood that North Station was going to have to stay open during construction.
However, the need to design the site around the transit station and TD Garden created multiple opportunities to develop new traffic flows and improve service, despite the multiple layers of bureaucratic and design complexities. The process was aided by Boston Properties’ lengthy track record in Boston, which includes development of Prudential Center—a 3.6 million-square-foot (335,000 sq m) mixed-use, urban-center complex next to the Hynes Convention Center—which won a ULI Global Award for Excellence in 2006. It also was aided by Delaware North’s long history with the site and North Station.
“Conversations were immediately started at the highest level,” says J.F. Finn III, principal and studio director for Gensler, which was master architect for the project. The designers were able to address a variety of neighborhood issues, such as access routes to the transit station, knowing that key stakeholders were already engaged with the project. “It was an incredibly collaborative project,” Finn says. “Everybody rolled up their sleeves.”
Tech Tenants and Authenticity
From the start, Boston Properties focused on attracting a younger, tech-focused audience to the project. It was an easy choice: tech has been the main driver of commercial property and economic growth in Boston in recent years. The development team began the process by talking to a wide variety of technology companies, asking what they wanted in a project, Koop says. Several executives pointed them to the Meatpacking District in New York City, where a variety of tech companies, including Google, have offices. The designers spent hours wandering the New York district and talking to tenants.
“People really loved the authenticity of the neighborhood,” Koop says. “It wasn’t the amenities; it was the authenticity of being in a cool neighborhood.”
Finding that vibe, that mix of old and new, became a key focus for Boston Properties in the design of The Hub. “We spent a tremendous amount of time to get it to feel authentic in a modern way,” Koop says.
Use of brick, exposed steel, and factory-style windows help define the look. “We didn’t want fake, industrial chic,” Koop says. “We wanted modern, but something that still reflected the neighborhood.” There was a push to create the podium clad in tall glass, but the idea was ultimately dropped in favor of more brick and natural elements. “The architecture needed to reflect something that bridged the community,” Koop says. “We felt sheer glass at the pedestrian level was not the way to go.”
The eight-story podium is the foundation for what Finn calls a “truly integrated vertical mixed-use project.” Designed to be built in three phases, the residential, hotel, and office towers sit on top of the podium, creating an array of decks and connected public spaces. “We had to make sure the infrastructure could be used through the retail podium but still pick up the hotel, office, and residential systems,” he says.
Boston Properties explored the idea of creating a traditional retail mall in the podium, anchored by big-box retailers, but that quickly changed when ArcLight Cinema leased 60,000 square feet (5,600 sq m) of space for a 14-screen movie complex, its first project in Boston. Soon afterward, Big Night Entertainment Group and Live Nation New England leased 31,680 square feet (2,900 sq m) for a club and concert venue. The podium also includes 175,000 square feet (16,000 sq m) of “creative loft” office space; cybersecurity software company Rapid7 has pre-leased 147,500 square feet (13,700 sq m) of that space.
“It’s mixed use, but it’s a new kind of hybrid,” says David Glover, retail leader and principal for Gensler. He calls the design an “urban club sandwich.” It is not simply “one use stacked on top of each other, but how they integrate,” he says. The hybrid goes beyond live/work/play and combines commerce, culture, and leisure activities, recalibrating the traditional shopping experience with a different tenant mix, decentralized food and beverage businesses, and connections to technology, he says.
The first phase of The Hub includes a new entrance to North Station and a tunnel under Causeway Street to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) North Station subway stop. The food hall, scheduled to open next year along with the market and the rest of the entertainment and retail complex, also has an entrance from North Station, creating a seamless connection between the transit center and The Hub amenities.
The first round of construction also includes a new, glass-topped, 10,000-square-foot (930 sq m) entry to TD Garden. Delaware North “was always focused on creating a better entrance for the Garden,” Jacobs says. The new glass facade will open up the building to the community, a sharp contrast with the typical dark, closed-off arena. “It’s very cool, very modern—a state-of-the-art experience,” Jacobs says. “You can actually see into the building.”
Curating the Tenant Mix
A phased development process was a key part of the original plan, which called for the podium to be built first, followed by the towers, as the market developed. “Inevitably, the thing that crushes mixed use is when you try to do it all at once,” Koop says. But the plan has been sped up: the project is 75 percent leased, beating expectations.
In July, Verizon announced it would take 440,000 square feet (41,000 sq m) of the 627,000 square feet (58,000 sq m) of space in the 31-story office tower, the tallest office building constructed in Boston in nearly two decades. Eighty percent of the office space is leased, providing a measure of validation for the tech-centric approach. The office tower was designed with large floor plates, high ceilings, and an abundance of natural light, reflecting input from the tech companies, Koop says. The office tower’s most dramatic elements are two-story bump-outs that extend from the corners on several levels, providing bright, open work areas with wide, two-story stairwells connecting floors.
“The building was designed from the inside out,” Koop says.
The office tower is scheduled to be completed in 2021; completion of the residential and hotel towers is scheduled for late 2019 and early 2020, not long after the podium. The 38-story residential tower will include 440 rental apartments rather than condominiums, reflecting Boston Properties’ structure more than a statement on market conditions. “It’s the nature of being a REIT [real estate investment trust],” Koop says. “We prefer to own long term for long-term appreciation.”
The residential tower will offer units in a range of styles and price points, a response to “a wide bandwidth of people who want to live in the neighborhood,” Koop says. The tower will include a rooftop deck and a sky deck for dogs, the Woof Deck.
The choice of Citizen M, an emerging brand with 13 hotels around the world, was part of the strategy to avoid the more traditional luxury hotel chains, Koop says. The 272-room hotel focuses on “affordable luxury” with an emphasis on design and a curated experience for “mobile citizens.” The better-known name brands “wouldn’t have captured the vibe” of the project or the neighborhood, Koop says.
Connecting the project with the neighborhood was always one of its goals—as well as a challenge it faced. “It’s not an inward-looking [project],” Finn says. To succeed, the project must engage people and draw them from the surrounding neighborhoods. “This is about the energy of the people and the community,” he says.
The neighborhood has been changing in recent years, with more projects popping up, Jacobs notes. “People are starting to live here,” he says. “It’s a much different neighborhood than what you would have seen ten or 15 years ago.” He believes The Hub can be a big part of that community transformation. “I like to think that we’re going to reflect our neighborhood,” Jacobs says.
The legacy of Boston sports, past and present, and the connection to the TD Garden is the thread that runs through the project. “We were always mindful of how the existing Garden and the new development interact and play with each other,” Jacobs says. “It has to be fluid.”
The original Boston Garden will live on in The Hub, in many ways. The entrance walk to the Garden will feature homages to star Boston athletes and images of great moments. “Boston loves their teams,” Glover says. “We wanted to really embed that into the project.”
In the gateway area, the designers went a step further. Outlines of the exact location of the old basketball court and hockey rink have been etched into the granite walkways and steel inlays. The plan is to create an app that will allow visitors to find the exact spots where John Havlicek stole the ball to seal the 1965 conference championship for the Celtics and where Bobby Orr scored the overtime goal that clinched the 1970 Stanley Cup for the Bruins.
“A great deal of history happened in that dirt,” Glover says.