The view from upper Newbury Street is bleak. In the shadow of Fenway Park, behind the Hotel Commonwealth, the sidewalks are mostly deserted, and on the Massachusetts Turnpike, cars roar by walls covered with graffiti.
But where parking meters and rusting fences now reside, Boston developer John Rosenthal envisions two high-rise residential and office buildings, a walkway spanning the turnpike between Kenmore Square and Lansdowne Street and a plaza reminiscent of Harvard Square.
“We’re going to put the ‘square’ back in Kenmore Square,” Rosenthal said.
The $300 million project, known as One Kenmore, would include two high-rise towers of 29 stories and 23 stories, as well as a six-story residential building on Newbury Street that will hide a parking garage, a health club on top of the garage and six and seven story buildings on Lansdowne Street. If all goes as hoped for, Rosenthal said, the project will be complete by 2007.
While the exact shape of the buildings has not yet been determined, Rosenthal said the complex would include about 500 apartments and condominiums and about 200,000 square feet of restaurants and retail space, as well as 50,000 square feet of office space, a 3,000 square foot community center and parking for about 775 cars.
“The [Boston Redevelopment Authority] and the Citizens’ Advisory Committee have encouraged us to design contemporary architecture because Kenmore Square doesn’t have any real identifying architectural style,” Rosenthal said.
Carlos Zapata of Wood + Zapata, the firm that recently redesigned Chicago’s Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team, is the architect behind the project, according to Rosenthal.
Fifty of the housing units, or 10 percent, would be classified as “affordable housing,” Rosenthal said, and an additional 25 affordable housing units would be developed off-site.
He said he thinks One Kenmore will benefit Kenmore Square businesses and residents.
“I think it’s going to significantly raise the value for Kenmore Square as a place to live and work, as well as the property values for all the landowners in Kenmore Square – most significantly Boston University,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said he hopes One Kenmore will raise Kenmore Square’s status as a destination rather than simply a gateway to Fenway Park or Boston University.
“It’ll be a year-round draw, a year-round icon, a year-round economy and full of exciting new uses that I think will improve the quality of life for the university,” Rosenthal said.
DEVELOPMENT = GOOD
A development like One Kenmore would be a boon for Kenmore Square, Rosenthal said, providing a year-round clientele for businesses whose profits drop off when students go home for the summer or the Boston Red Sox end their season.
“We’re going to bring year-round residences that will support year-round businesses in Kenmore Square who currently suffer due to the seasonality of the university – of BU – and the Red Sox,” Rosenthal said.
Pamela Beale, president of the Kenmore Association, chairman of the BU Community Task Force and owner of Cornwall’s in Kenmore Square, said she and her fellow business owners welcome the prospect of a large development like One Kenmore.
“I think it’s a really good project,” Beale said. “The area needs development and people.”
Beale said Kenmore specifically needs people who live in the area year-round and who develop an investment in the community, she said, adding that Kenmore Square’s location close to the river and to BU make it a “wonderful place to live.”
Rosenthal said Hotel Commonwealth would also benefit from the high-rises.
“This will do a lot for the new Hotel Commonwealth, which is still a bit of a pioneer in Kenmore Square,” he said. “That hotel alone is not going to be enough to turn Kenmore Square around.”
“Business owners and residents seem very receptive to [One Kenmore],” Beale said. “By and large most people are very excited.”
But Peter Catalano, a member of the steering committee for the Fenway Action Coalition, said he worries about the traffic problems that could accompany a development as large as One Kenmore.
“A project of this magnitude, with everything else that’s going on in the area, is probably a formula for enhancing Boston’s reputation as America’s traffic gridlock city,” Catalano said.
Rosenthal, however, said he received “overwhelming support” from community groups at a public meeting in September, due in large part to the need for housing in the area and the benefits of bridging the gap between Kenmore Square and the Lansdowne Street entertainment district.
Beale spoke highly of Rosenthal, who she said understands the dynamics of the neighborhood and is interested in hearing residents’ opinions.
“We’re very lucky to have him as the developer since he’s been part of the community for at least a dozen years,” Beale said.
Rosenthal has owned a parking garage on Lansdowne Street for more than 10 years, and uses the billboard on the side of it for community service announcements from Stop Handgun Violence, a non-profit organization devoted to preventing gun violence that Rosenthal founded in 1995.
“I think [community members] trust me as a community activist and businessperson,” Rosenthal said.
He also founded the non-profit Friends of Boston’s Homeless, which aims to help the homeless move off the streets, according to the organization’s website.
Community members will have a chance to voice their concerns at a Dec. 17 public hearing that will discuss the various changes made to the plan since it was filed in June and then presented to the community in September.