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Kenmore facelift in progress

A long-awaited Kenmore Square facelift is slated to begin around the start of the new year, said Boston University Executive Vice President Joseph Mercurio.

A backdrop of run-down buildings, closed-up shops and concrete rubble will be replaced by a 191,000-square foot, European-style luxury hotel. The hotel structure will begin at 500 Commonwealth Ave., the former International House of Pancakes, and stretch westward for 300 feet.

BU’s subsidiary, Great Bays Holdings — the developers spearheading the Kenmore renovation — have already acquired a demolition permit and plan to begin demolition on the first of the year. The project is expected to take about 24 months, but students will see the structural skeleton of the hotel this summer.

The hotel will reach five stories and contain 149 rooms, 60 percent of which will include suites consisting of a bedroom, “oversized” parlor and bathroom. The hotel restaurant includes an outdoor terrace with a walled-in garden. There is also 4,000 square feet set aside for social functions and business use.

Restaurants and shops open to the public will span the first two floors of the hotel.

“Developers are out canvassing now, looking for a mixed combination of restaurant as well as other types of retails stores,” said Mercurio. “They haven’t finalized anything yet.”

According to Meredith Baumann, spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the project was approved by the Public Improvement Commission two weeks ago. “The Public Improvement Commission was definitely one of the last remaining hurdles,” Baumann said. “It is the step in the process where you take in the aspects of the project that impacts the public way.”

For example, if the hotel juts onto a public walkway or if an awning stretches onto public property, residents may contest its erection.

In general, Mercurio said the community has supported improvements in the Kenmore area.

“Kenmore Square is so close that it is sort of a gateway to the campus area,” Mercurio said. “Consequently, the vitality of the square has an impact on the value of adjacent properties. Also, [it affects] the ambiance and related issues like safety of areas adjacent to campus.”

“I would think [the hotel] would bring more business to the Gap,” said Elizabeth Anderson, sales supervisor at the Kenmore Gap. “Our main business is BU students, and on vacations we have no customers.”

Anderson said she is not worried about competition from retail stores moving into the hotel because GAP is a “common standard.” People going into the store already know what they will see, she said.

BU has been involved in rejuvenating the Square since the early 1970s, Mercurio said. In BU’s 1986 Master Plan, the University cited improvements in Kenmore as a high priority. At that time, the streets of Kenmore Square were lined with nightclubs and pubs. Drugs and crime were prevalent as a result, and the area was deteriorating.

In order to quell the decline, BU attempted to buy out several nightclubs and create space for retailers such as Barnes ‘ Noble and the Gap. According to Mercurio, these investments were meant to entice other investors.

“We concluded from that exercise that it is necessary to find other ways to encourage outside investment,” he said. “But that was not enough to turn it around and make it more attractive to commercial investors, even a square as small as Kenmore.”

In January, the University closed a number of Kenmore stores, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Super Socks, Kenmore Liquors and numerous other retail stores and doctors’ offices. IHOP closed up shop this past September.

Other areas included in BU’s Master Plan are the parking lot next to the Howard Johnson Hotel and the area across from that hotel, next to the bookstore. With the projected cost of developing these sites tentatively estimated at $250-300 million, there are currently no plans for either of those areas.

The cost of the hotel was an estimated $50 million when plans were announced in 1999. However, Mercurio said costs are now approximated at $75-80 million. BU contributes to these costs based on the value of the land it owns. The rest of the amount is produced through outside investors.

The state has granted $7 million to improve public amenities in Kenmore Square. This involves renovation of Kenmore sidewalks and the T station, helping to create a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

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