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New life awaiting garage on Greenway

Developer will pay $155m for the site; offices, condos likely

Email|Print| Text size + By Thomas C. Palmer Jr.
Globe Staff / November 20, 2007

Donald J. Chiofaro, who developed International Place, has agreed to buy the Harbor Garage, between the New England Aquarium and the new Greenway on Boston's waterfront, for about $155 million and will probably replace it with a large complex of offices, residences, and a hotel.

"We've been looking for a big deal, and this is the deal we've been looking for," an ebullient Chiofaro said yesterday. "We love this site. It's on the Greenway and on the water."

Sometimes referred to as the Aquarium garage, the seven-story block of concrete, with parking for 1,380 cars, went on the market in June. It was designed by the firm of I.M. Pei and built in the 1960s, and has been owned since 2002 by InterPark.

Chiofaro, who is not expected to close on the property for several weeks, said it's too early to say what shape his redevelopment of the project will take. But, he said, "To build a significant nice project there you're going to have to build something that has some scale."

Whatever he does replace the garage with would probably include office, residential, hotel, and retail space. The site is next to the two 40-story Harbor Towers condo buildings.

"It's a billion-dollar project on the water," said Rob Griffin, president of Cushman & Wakefield of Massachusetts Inc., which represented the seller. There were about a dozen bidders initially, Griffin said, but it came down to three at the end.

The dollar bids among finalists were similar, but Chiofaro prevailed because of "flexibility and creativity in dealing with issues surrounding the management and ownership of the parking garage," Griffin said.

Under the agreement, InterPark will manage the parking now and when a new garage is built.

Parking is an issue because Harbor Towers residents lease several hundred spaces in the garage. Also, mechanical equipment for Harbor Towers is located in the garage building.

In addition, the aquarium relies on the garage for many of its visitors, despite its stiff downtown-size hourly rates.

Chiofaro acknowledged that whatever he builds there, "It will have to have a lot of parking. We're going to replace in some fashion a lot of it."

Chiofaro called himself "a friend of the aquarium" and said he has spoken to executives there about getting through what could be two to three years of construction.

Until a few years ago, the hulking garage sat next to a rusting elevated Central Artery highway through downtown that carried more than 150,000 vehicles a day.

Now it overlooks the Wharf District blocks of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, which replaced the highway. The garage also faces a small but elaborate new park funded by Fidelity Investments, along Milk Street adjacent to the aquarium.

"If Rowes Wharf commands the highest rents, this is comparable," Griffin said. "It's one of the best sites, if not the best site in the city."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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