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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Another air intake, this time with style

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 9/8/2002

Everybody wants to know: What is that steel structure with the rounded top that has sprung up near the Federal Reserve Bank, on a Surface Artery parcel the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is supposed to occupy?

Yes, it's for the Big Dig.

About 75 by 115 feet and 70 feet high, it's an air-intake structure for the Central Artery. It will have two huge fans and other equipment inside, including a diesel generator for emergency power.

Most of the roughly eight-mile Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel system is to be ventilated by eight other buildings, strategically placed over the underground roadway. They're a diverse set of structures.

The one in East Boston, built before the budget crunch and topped with stainless steel, won a design award. The one in South Boston, a gigantic eyesore at the entrance to the new convention center, will be the subject of a review team as soon as it's finished. They'll try to figure out how to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

The others are built deeper underground, are combined with hotels or garages, or are in less visible locations, even though they're gargantuan.

But the structures will provide fresh air for the new tunnels. The old Dewey Square Tunnel, near South Station, is being reconstructed to carry only southbound traffic. It already has three small vent structures, in the Leather District and Chinatown. Fred Yalouris, the Big Dig's director of architecture, said those will be retained. And a new one will be added -- the one going up at Congress Street.

"The preliminary design called for a much bigger building," Yalouris said. "We insisted the architect do everything in his power to make it smaller."

The architect was Ali Rizvi, now of C&R/Risvi Inc.

The building will share the block with Mass. Hort, or whoever builds the intended winter garden. It may even be mostly incorporated into a larger new structure.

The "barrel vault ceiling" was one feature that kept the ventilation structure's height down, he said. The outside will be polished reflective aluminum, similar to the surface on the Federal Reserve, and granite, more or less matching the stately front of nearby South Station.

"The intent of the building is to appear elegant yet discreet," Yalouris said. "We didn't want to pretend it was a building people would go into and buy a necktie."

Looking for land

Tim called last week; he wants 1,000 acres in southern New England but can't find it. He said he and some partners have a development idea to "help children," and the real estate people he had consulted "won't go past their computer" to locate a spot. He wanted to know if any company searches for land. We told him that's what real-estate brokerages do. And, from our experience, they don't know just a little about what's available. They know everything.

Two top people in town told us the same thing: You have to choose a real estate company and work with it exclusively. You can't get much good information by just making calls to five competing houses.

Jim Thomson, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield, knows the territory. "Nobody controls 1,000 acres, with one exception," he told us. "Cumberland Farms has about 5,000 acres stretching from the turnpike south."

But something that close to metro Boston is going to cost more than the $1 million to $5 million Tim had estimated. Without any specific property in mind, Thomson pegged the cost of that much land at $20 million to $25 million, unless Tim is willing to move considerably farther from civilization.

"You'd have to do an assemblage," Thomson said. These days, "200 acres is a big parcel."

Per square foot

Meredith & Grew/Oncor International's midyear survey shows rents in Boston in second place among the top 10 in the category of Class A central business district office space.

You'll pay $56 per square foot in Manhattan, $42 in Boston, $38 in Washington, D.C., $37.32 in Silicon Valley, $34.03 in Toronto, $33 in San Francisco, $31.37 in Miami, $31 in Sacramento, $30.75 in Chicago, and, for that perfect weather in San Diego, only $30.

Little Rock, Ark., was ranked lowest of the cities surveyed: $12.50.

Have a question about development in Boston? E-mail Lots & Blocks at blocks@globe.com.

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