Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-12: Making the Hynes behave on Boylston Street

Photo 1: Looking east on Boylston Street, Hynes in the midground, and
the Hancock Tower in the far background.

Photo 2: Looking diagonally across Boylston Street, at Hynes' NW corner
and The Capital Grille.

Photo 3: towne restaurant, at the NE corner of the Hynes
Convention Center (sorry for the delivery trucks).

Photo 4: The eastward facing entrance of towne, shot from the
sidewalk in front of the courtyard adjacent.
Photo 5: The courtyard adjacent, with towne's outdoor seating.
Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2010.

The Story: We have spent no insignificant amount of time and digital ink here at RTUF talking about the many changes, large and small, that have been made over the last decade at the Prudential Center (of which the Hynes Convention Center is not technically a part, though it is directly adjacent), including in both Blog Post No. 2009-3: The Mandarin Oriental Hotel (discussing the Mandarin's success in replacing what had been a particularly lifeless cluster of auto access drives along Boylston Street between Essex and Fairfield Streets), and Blog Post No. 2010-21: Seizing the presently available opportunity to continue the campaign to bring the Pru out to meet its neighbors... (highlighting a then-proposed residential rental tower that filled in a major gap along Essex Street, and also pointing to the still-proposed 888 Boylston Street tower that would fill in the last plaza space next to towne as well as several other changes around the complex's perimeter such as 111 Huntington, the Belvidere residences, and the two-story section along Huntington to which Shaw's supermarket was moved). It has been an impressive string of improvements, and one to which Cityscapes of Boston itself pointed with anticipation even as far back as 1992. After lamenting the "wasteland of grim towers and empty plazas" by which "Boston's Prudential Center blights everything around it," Robert Campbell expressed hope at the then-new ownership's plans for "filling the worst of its dead plazas with new shops and offices," concluding that "[i]f all goes well, the Pru may some day be a revitalizing agent for the very street frontage it now kills." (pp. 208-209)

That day can now be said to have fully arrived, two decades on. So much so that even publicly-owned buildings are getting in on the act. Your RTUF correspondent will stipulate that we are looking in this case at a fairly subtle, kind of small bore change to the formerly long, blank Boylston Street frontage of the Hynes Convention Center. For our non-Boston readers, the Hynes is the erstwhile main convention center for the Boston region that ultimately became too small and was replaced by the massive Boston Convention and Exposition Center (or "BCEC") out in what is now the Innovation District in South Boston. (Of course, there's already a proposal floating to expand the BCEC beyond its current footprint because it is already in danger of becoming too small itself, less than 10 years after it was completed (!), but I digress...)

Now, to return to the Hynes and the subject of this blog post. The convention center authority has retained the Hynes and kept it operating as a venue for smaller conventions and meetings that don't compete with the BCEC. At least one source from around the time of towne's opening ("towne makes Hynes tastier") indicated that the authority's impetus for bringing in both towne and The Capital Grille was to improve dining options for visitors/convention-goers. I also suspect that part of the discussion around keeping the Hynes open after the BCEC came online might have included running some numbers and trying to figure out a way to enhnace non-event revenue, including from such things as then underutilized space along the Boylston Street frontage. Whatever the reason, the insertion of both restaurants within the existing footprint of the building at its two corners was a very good move. No, not earthshattering, but a smart decision and one recognizing a couple of key imperatives in creating a workable urban fabric: first, avoid long blank walls along important street frontages, whatever is going on behind them, and second, pay special attention to corners. The result is that this stretch of Boylston now has activity on both sides of the street, something that almost has never been the case (recall that before the Pru was built, there were extensive railroad yards all the way from Mass. Ave. to Dartmouth St.), but which Campbell rightly pointed out in Cityscapes (at p. 208) is critical for a successful commercial street, though being located opposite the Hynes was never quite as bad as being located opposite the un-reconstructed Pru's plazas. Note also that both restaurants have extensive outdoor seating, which used to be dismissed in Boston as simply incompatible with a region that has as long a winter season as we typically do, but is now recognized as a highly desirable amenity for any urban eatery.

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric:

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