Monday, November 15, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-21: Seizing the presently available opportunity to continue the campaign to bring the Pru out to meet its neighbors... the Back Bay and South End

A rendering of Avalon Exeter viewed from Boylston Street over the Lord & Taylor building (credit: Boston Properties, Elkus Manfredi).

Ted Siefer, a Boston Globe correspondent who's been writing recently on a wide variety of home and real estate-related topics as well as producing content for The Phoenix and WBUR, did a fine job in Saturday's paper in describing how a current development proposal does both in "Apartment building ready to rise". AvalonBay Communities is predicting construction start on Avalon Exeter, a 28-story rental apartment building located on the Prudential Center complex (MAP) that straddles the border of the Back Bay and the South End, in the spring of next year.

Multifamily development, especially in a rental market like Boston's with its high built-in demand, high rental rates, and low vacancy with little new product coming online, is the current conventional wisdom's financing fair-haired child. Almost nothing else is moving forward right now in a meaningful way -- certainly not general office given the employment situation, not ownership residential given the continued inability of that market to find a positive direction several years into the subprimte/foreclosure meltdown, and also not retail development given continued softness in the consumer economy (though there are some isolated bright spots). No, ladies and gentlemen, the smart money right now and for the foreseeable future is on multifamily rental and that counts as our "presently available opportunity" for today's post.

Which brings us to the "bring the Pru out to meet the neighbors" part of the post. That's the way the design of the new tower and, equally as importantly, its location continues the multi-year effort by the owner of the overall Prudentail Center complex -- Boston Properties -- to fill in the exterior edges of the massive complex and make it act more like a piece of the urban fabric in this critical urban location, rather than a sealed-off enclave behind vacuous and little used open spaces. This trend was cited in one of the first posts on this blog -- No. 2009-3 just over a year ago -- about the Mandarin Oriental building on Boylston Street and how it had quite elegantly filled in a gap in the Pru's exterior on Boylston Street. Boston Properties has been doing that all over the place -- with the curving Belvedere residential building on that street's frontage, the office tower at 111 Huntington Avenue (famous for its crown, reportedly the brain-child of the Mayor himself), new one- and two-story connections along Huntington Avenue itself with a relocated and upgraded Shaw's supermarket, and a more open design to the Lord & Taylor store on Boylston Street.

All of these changes have made the Pru a far better neighbor than it has ever been, and Boston Properties has a plan approved already to fill in the last big gap on Boylston with an office building dubbed "888 Boylston." The office market being what it is, it may be some time before that building moves forward. But, as noted above, the multifamily rental market is still going well and AvalonBay, having taken over ownership and management of the pricey but frankly urban design-deficient residential towers at the Pru, is now finally ready to break ground on a residential building that will fill in the exterior gap on the east, along Exeter Street between Huntington and Boylston. The rendering in the article doesn't have much detail but it does seem to show the new building creating a strong street edge and ground-level uses on Exeter. And below, some context...

In order: 888 Boylston Street (the proposed office tower further up Boylston (credit: Boston Properties)), 1960s-vintage postcard showing the under-construction Prudential as object building resting on its low-slung podium (credit unavailable), the residential towers on the eastern end of the site as originally built (note the surrounding plaza space (credit: Boston Properties)), the curving Belvidere residential building that encloses the Belvedere-Dalton Street frontage (credit noted).

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