April 6, 2018 Dave Kreider

Last week, the Boston Planning & Development Agency published a letter to Millennium Partners, developers of the planned Winthrop Square Tower in Boston’s Financial District. In the letter, the BPDA outlined their criticisms of the proposed skyscraper’s design, citing dozens of areas that the city would like to see additional consideration from the development team.

The conversation is another step forward in an already lengthy process to bring the tower to fruition.

Until recently, 115 Winthrop Square was occupied by a four-story parking garage with a footprint of approximately 47,738 square-feet. The project site is bounded by 75/101 Federal Street to the north, 100 Summer Street to the south, Devonshire Street to the west and Federal Street to the East.

The garage was closed in May 2013 and is currently in the process of being razed due to safety concerns.

In 2014, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (Formerly Boston Redevelopment Authority) acquired the Project Site and issued a Request for Internet proposal with a detailed set of requirements and criteria in the areas of urban design, transportation, financial matters, and the public realm.

The Review Committee unanimously recommended the proposal by Millennium Partners, which called for the construction of a 664 foot single tower with a mix of complementary uses.

The central focus of the proposed project will be an approximately 12,000 square-foot space open and available to the public, currently referred to as the Great Hall. While intended to be attractive in its own right, the Great Hall’s primary focus is to provide the operational and architectural scaffolding for educational, cultural, collaborative, and civic event uses in the space.

As a result of feedback from neighbors, residents, community members, the BPDA and City of Boston, Millennium Partners made various changes to the proposed project following its initial Project Notification Form in November 2016. These included:

  • Increasing the number of residential units from 460 to approximately 500.
  • Increasing the office space from 635,000 square-feet to approximately 750,000 square-feet.
  • Reducing the height from 775 feet to approximately 664 feet

The PDA was resubmitted in February 2018, which followed with a Draft Project Impact Report and Request for Supplemental Information. The BPDA made the following points for additional emphasis and consideration:

Public Realm

  • Clarify curb use overall, on both Devonshire and Federal Streets
  • Design, landscape and programming still not entirely clear; develop stronger concept rationale. Consider the larger space more comprehensively as an urban room.
  • More detail on tabling plans and the expanded sidewalk.
  • Tree removal and new landscape are proposed due to age of existing trees and height of soil that has developed over time – need a closer look at grading and tree replacement strategy.
  • Consider including some active uses; consider role/type of outdoor seating.
  • How might this work with Downtown BID programming (e.g. retail kiosks and food trucks)?
  • Connection to Winthrop Lane – develop the notion of this space as part of a network, and as an opportunity for public art.
  • Provide more information on any architectural elements considered for the plaza and sidewalk.
  • Define more closely the wind mitigation devices and strategy, including street trees.
  • Strengthen the idea of linking connective spaces by describing general enhancements to and on Tontine Crescent to provide wayfinding and public realm connectivity.
  • The sequence of spaces, including the Great Hall, should be legible and attractive day and night.

Great Hall

  • Currently, the design and programming should be more developed.
  • The design includes flexible spaces and mentions collaboration with the Downtown BID – provide further detail on how this will be managed.
  • Strengthen the design of the Winthrop Square connection.
  • Develop greater design specificity on the entrance portals on both the Devonshire and Federal Street sides.
  • Simplify the expression and idea of the Great Hall, and make sure that it reads strongly as a public space first, before populating it with other elements that might confuse the reading.
  • Retail is largely absent – elaborate on the potential of either a permanent or temporary retailing strategy – or retail pop-ups/kiosks.

Urban Design

  • Present massing and design evolution from the PNF, to the DPIR, and onwards.
  • The proponent returning to the simple, strong vertical detail is a welcome development. Further designs should be forthcoming for the key elements of the building and facade.
  • For the two-tower idea (one building that reads as two towers), epxlore alternative design strategies for the bridge connection to minimize the heaviness of the single T-shape tower and maximize the sense of separation/transparency between the massing elements.
  • What is the design strategy for the tops of the tower? How do they relate and/or differ? Might they have different lighting strategies to enhance a two tower design, or just rich architectural, reading?
  • Provide more detailed elevations and skyline views, including from Dewey Square, the Greenway, and I-93.
  • Maximize the appearance and animation of public vs. private frontage along Devonshire Street.
  • Develop initial thoughts on the design, scale, lighting and material treatment of the parking entries, and the residential lobby adjacent to the entry off Devonshire Street.

Circulation, Traffic & Transportation

  • Minimize pedestrian crossing distances as much as possible.
  • Project anticipated pedestrian volumes and desire lines to support tabling plan, additional crosswalks, etc.
  • Further study needed on two-way versus one-way Devonshire Street; and two-way Summer Street from Otis to Arch Streets.
  • Will there be flexibility built in for a future non-parking use?
  • Clarify projects, existing and planned, in the “No Build” alternative analysis.
  • Re-analyze parking demand and further explain how shared parking will work within the garage, including the functional impact on parking ratios.
  • Is a single lane parking entrance at Federal Street sufficient? Please detail traffic management strategy to prevent queuing issues on Federal Street and any access alternatives studied.
  • Minimize any conflicts between pedestrians and the parking garage entires, in all cases favoring the pedestrian movements.

Geotechnical/Structural

  • Abutters on both sides have raised geotechnical concerns that need to be addressed.
  • Better define the geotechnical and engineering/construction technique aspects of the Proposed Project that will maximize the structural integrity of the extended site and minimize any settlement risks associated with the construction, excavation and any associated dewatering activities.

Environmental

  • Additional solar glare testing shall be conducted based on the massing and design that responds to the aforementioned Urban Design comments.
  • Visual glare impacts on pedestrians, drivers, adjacent facades and open spaces, including but not limited to the Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, the Norman B. Leventhal Park, and Rose Kennedy Greenway.
  • Thermal impacts on pedestrians, drivers, adjacent facades and open spaces including the Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, Norman B. Leventhal Park, and Rose Kennedy Greenway

Joe Larkin, a principal with Millennium Partners in Boston, reflected that the BPDA considerations were “about what we expected”. “It keeps us on schedule. It’s part of that specific dialogue that makes these projects better all the time. We’re really happy to have the project continue to proceed through the process.”

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