In Boston, the name Fenway is not just for baseball anymore.
The neighborhood, often called “the Fenway” by locals, is distinguished as the home of the legendary Fenway Park, built in 1912 for the Boston Red Sox. The area has been transfigured by new residential skyscrapers where fast-food restaurants once stood. Redevelopment springs up along the streets of the Fenway, where high-tech health companies and a market concept popular in Portugal are central to the remake of a onetime Sears distribution center. Medical researchers and entrepreneurs who work in Boston’s exceptional medical institutions and stellar universities in the bordering Longwood Medical Area (LMA) have fueled the burst in retail, entertainment, residential, and office space throughout the contiguous communities, located about three miles (5 km) west of Boston’s downtown.
“People would come to the area because they had to go see their doctor or they wanted to go to a baseball game,” says Meredith Christensen, first vice president of CBRE/New England. “But from this great historical fabric, it’s been filled with projects by interesting developers. People live, people work, people entertain 365 days a year here, not just for 81 home games.”
The three areas encompass Boston’s cultural, educational, and medical meccas. Landmarks include the Massachusetts Museum of Fine Arts, Symphony Hall, and the Emerald Necklace, a string of waterways and parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. In the Longwood Medical Area, more than 110,000 people visit daily to work or seek care at Harvard University’s medical, public health, and dental schools, as well as at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital, the Joslin Diabetes Center, and others. The neighborhood teems with nearly 100,000 students attending institutions such as Northeastern and Boston, and Simmons universities, Boston College, and Emmanuel College.
In the Longwood Medical Area, much-needed workspace has been hard to come by for the researchers and entrepreneurs at its medical centers and universities. Office vacancy rates have averaged about 1 percent annually since 2010. More than 110,000 people work or visit the institutions in 213-acre (86 ha) Longwood each day. Hospitals such as Beth Israel Deaconess, Brigham and Women’s, and Boston Children’s Hospital are among the city’s largest employers.
In the Longwood Medical Area, research space has been 100 percent occupied and rents for $100 per square foot ($1,076 per sq m), “which is indicative of the tightness of that marketplace,” says Brian Kavoogian, president of Charles River Realty.
“It’s been very important to be located within the LMA because the typical Boston medical researcher is also a clinician and a professor,” Kavoogian says. “Very typically, they park their cars, go from their research lab to their office to the Harvard Medical School, where they may be associate professors.”
Development around Fenway Park, less than a half mile (0.8 km) away, has supplied crucial office space for medical and tech entrepreneurs.
The Fenway/Kenmore developments have “become a vibrant mixed use of offices, hotels, retail, housing, and now research space,” says Kavoogian. “We’ve seen institutions in the LMA take office space outside of LMA. And we are seeing biotech companies willing to put research space in the Fenway, just a stone’s throw away from Longwood.”
Boston is one of the nation’s top examples of how hospitals and universities fuel the local economy, says ULI senior resident fellow Thomas J. Murphy, who was mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006. Boston is a showcase for the synthesis of “eds and meds” in urban development and revitalization.
“They are huge economic drivers,” Murphy says. “And how cities work with them can lay the foundation for growth and a changing cityscape.” The medical and research discoveries generated by these institutions present urban development opportunities, he notes.
“How does the city create an entrepreneurial culture to cultivate the university people who are doing research there, and to encourage them to consider staying there and growing a company?” Murphy asks. “The quality of place . . . determines whether people want to live there, and that’s an important piece as well.”
Fenway’s transformation has roots in the furor over plans by a previous Red Sox team owner to build a larger stadium to replace Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball and famous for the 37.2-foot-high (11.3 m) left-field wall known as the Green Monster. But even as the new ballpark idea was scrapped and billionaire John Henry’s group bought the team in 2002, neighborhood groups and city planners sketched out a vision.
Among those at the table were Samuels & Associates, the Boston-based developer behind landscape-changing buildings in the Fenway. Since 2006, the firm has developed 11 new buildings in the Fenway, adding 1,297 residential units, most of them rentals, to the market.
Peter Sougarides, principal at Samuels & Associates, walked the neighborhood streets as a teenager and college student. He attended Boston Latin High School—the nation’s first public school, founded in 1635—and graduated from Northeastern University.
“When I looked out my office window 20 years ago, this area was filled with parking lots, McDonald’s, gas stations, and tire stores,” says Sougarides. “There were parking lots left and right—and bars.”
Now, when he looks out the window of his third-floor office in a renovated warehouse, he says, “I see a vibrant sidewalk. People are walking in and out of stores, a Target, sitting in outdoor cafés, going to restaurants.” Sougarides notes that “there’s been this dramatic change from underutilized properties of gas stations and parking lots and fast food to a vibrancy.
“We have about 100,000 students within one mile [1.6 km] around the Fenway,” says Sougarides. “The universities and colleges attract people from around the world, bringing in new ideas and staying in the city. And the hospitals bring in great researchers and doctors and staff. You have this confluence of educated, bright individuals with great ideas.
“We’ve had this major influx of companies wanting to move into Boston because they want to tap Boston’s talent pool,” Sougarides says.
At the Landmark Center, a Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center on the National Register of Historic Places built in 1929, Samuels & Associates is adding to the area’s evolution. Distinguished by its art deco exterior, the cast-in-place concrete behemoth has 1.5 million square feet (139,000 sq m) of space with an eight-story main foundation and a 14-story tower. Sears closed it in the late 1980s, and the building sat vacant while there was talk of demolition, before the Abbey Group with the firm Bruner/Cott Architects redeveloped it in 2000. The office and retail complex includes a Best Buy, a Bed Bath & Beyond, a 14-screen movie theater, and a daycare center, which benefits tenants from Harvard’s medical and public health schools and Boston’s Children’s Hospital. In 2011, Samuels & Associates acquired the Landmark Center for $530.5 million from the Abbey Group. The Landmark Center will be renamed 401 Park, according to Nicole Clifford, a spokeswoman for Samuels.
Under Samuels & Associates, Elkus Manfredi Architects is designing a ground-floor food hall for the Time Out Market, a dining concept that debuted in Lisbon in 2014 and attracts 3 million visitors in the Portuguese capital. The market, scheduled to open in 2019, is a curated culinary mix of bars and restaurants, with a cooking academy. The first Time Out Market in the United States is scheduled to open in Miami this fall.
The market’s large garage-style doors will open to an outdoor park. The building’s renovations are about two-thirds completed, says Sougarides. The Phase I work underway costs approximately $125 million. A $450 million planned Phase II expansion will add a new office tower.
Samuels & Associates redesigned other classics in the Fenway. A gas station metamorphosed into a Tasty Burger, a joint founded by haute cuisine chef friends near the ballpark in 2010 and now the “official burger” of the Red Sox. A 1959 motel was reborn with polished midcentury stylings as the Verb Hotel, boutique lodging that pays homage to the neighborhood’s rock-and-roll and radio history. The Verb boasts a lending library of vinyl records for guests’ use on the record players furnished in each of its 93 rooms. The two-story Fenway Motor Hotel opened in 1959 and was designed by architects Irving Salsberg and Ralph Leblanc. Later it became a Howard Johnson motor lodge, before Elkus Manfredi Architects renovated it into the Verb Hotel.
The Fenway’s remake also is punctuated by the Pierce Boston skyscraper, a luxury apartment tower at the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street. The 30-story tower by Samuels & Associates comprises 109 condo units, 240 rental units, and 20,000 square feet (1,900 sq m) of retail space at street level. Samuels partnered with Landsea Holdings, one of China’s top real estate developers. It was designed by Arquitectonica of Miami. The design includes a rooftop pool and deck. In August, Curbed Boston writer Tom Acitelli reported that a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo unit on the 20th floor is priced at $1.88 million. That is $1,600 a square foot ($17,200 per sq m) for 1,148 square feet (107 sq m).
Other developments will change—but preserve—the city’s skyline.
The area’s most distinctive signage is the 60-by-60-foot (18 by 18 m) Citgo sign. The sign has sat atop the 660 Beacon Street Building in Kenmore Square since 1940 and acquired the petroleum company name in 1965.
Developer Related Beal bought the building from Boston University for $145 million in 2016. Related Beal and Citgo’s parent company agreed on terms to keep the sign aglow, even as the developer incorporates the structure into the 143,000-square-foot (13,000 sq m) building of “repositioned office space” with 18,000 square feet (1,700 sq m) of retail space in a 2018 deal, according to Curbed Boston.
Last fall, Skanska USA Commercial Development opened the Harlo at 1350 Boylston, a 17-story luxury apartment building with 212 units erected on the site of a former Burger King. The 183,000-square-foot (17,000 sq m) building includes about 7,000 square feet (650 sq m) of ground-floor retail space. It also comprises a pet spa, a billiards lounge, first-floor restaurants, and residential units ranging from studios, starting at $2,500 per month, to three-bedroom units. A three-bedroom, 1,120-square-foot (104 sq m) unit, available for November occupany, was recently listed on the Harlo website for $5,708 per month.
The Fenway Center project is under construction. Joint venture partners Meredith Management, Gerding Edlen, and TH Real Estate broke ground in January on the first phase of a $240 million mixed-use development next to Fenway Park. Phase I erects two apartment buildings with 312 units, 37,000 square feet (3,400 sq m) of retail uses, and 200 underground parking spaces. The design calls for a landscaped pedestrian walkway to bridge tenants over the adjacent commuter rail station.
There are efforts to preserve housing for low- and moderate-income families as Boston’s population—and rents—soar. The city has added 100,000 residents since 2000 to an estimated 685,000 population.
Leah Camhi, director of the nonprofit Fenway Community Development Corporation (Fenway CDC), fights against displacement of longtime residents and for maintaining affordable housing options.
Camhi credits developers such as Samuels & Associates for being “very thoughtful” about involving the community and local businesses in its projects. The developer sponsors an annual “Taste of the Fenway” fundraiser, and Camhi says it is one way of helping her nonprofit organization “raise the profile of our work of speaking for people who are so marginalized and disenfranchised.”
She says the area’s colleges and universities should consider building more dormitories—and not necessarily on their current footprints in the neighborhood—to make it more possible for families, rather than more students, to occupy housing. She applauds a law recently signed by Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston to impose restrictions and fees on short-term rentals of units through services such as Airbnb. Camhi says that some developers and businesses across Boston were setting aside 4,000 to 6,000 residential units for short-term rentals, because the frequent turnovers pull in more cash than conventional apartment leases.
“All those units being taken off the market hurts when there’s already a huge squeeze to find people places to live,” Camhi says.
The Fenway CDC owns eight properties with 311 units, says Camhi, an effort to keep affordable housing available. The organization is poised to acquire a 97-unit building, and is working with a developer for 126 units of new construction in the neighborhood.
In February, with $14.3 million in financing from the Massachusetts Housing Agency, the Fenway CDC bought the four-story Burbank Gardens for $20.8 million.
The CDC will renovate and preserve 52 affordable units in the building, with 39 units for households with annual incomes between $31,000 and $62,040 for a family of four and 13 apartments designated for families earning up to $93,100.
“The challenge is not to have this be a transient neighborhood with all the apartments that have gone up. We’ve been pushing back a lot to create more opportunities for families to be in the Fenway,” says Camhi. “If we didn’t buy this building, this would go market [rate] and these people would have no place to live.”
Some 2018 ULI Fall Meeting attendees will enjoy a sold-out tour of the Fenway and Longwood Medical Area, which is also home to the convention center where many of the other meeting activities will occur.