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Developer offers new details on Copley tower

At 47 floors, it would be city’s biggest residential building

The plan adds 318 residences and enlarges Neiman Marcus. The plan adds 318 residences and enlarges Neiman Marcus. (Elkus Manfredi Architects)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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Simon Property Group is moving forward with plans for a 47-story tower at Copley Place that would be Boston’s largest residential building, saying it would ensure the complex “maintains its status as the most attractive retail destination in the Boston metropolitan area.’’

Documents Simon submitted yesterday to the Boston Redevelopment Authority detail how the developer is trying to address the building’s impact on the neighborhood by, for example, rotating the tower to make it appear slimmer from the Copley Square side and increasing the size of a glass-encased garden with shops and community space.

The overall size and form would remain the same; 318 residences, a new and larger Neiman Marcus store, and additional restaurants and shops would be included in the project, across Dartmouth Street from the MBTA’s Back Bay Station.

After pausing development of the $500 million project for several years because of the recession, Simon is trying to move forward with construction. It has not set a start date, however, and still needs approvals from the BRA and state environmental regulators.

The project would fill in Copley Place’s last piece of undeveloped property by extending the Neiman Marcus store into the brick plaza at Dartmouth and Stuart streets. A multitiered residential tower would rise above the store.

“The expansion of Neiman Marcus and Copley Place strengthens our retail destination in the Back Bay and contributes to the city’s economic vitality,’’ Michael E. McCarty, Simon’s executive vice president for development, said in a statement. “The project will enhance the urban fabric of the neighborhood and be a striking addition to the city’s skyline.’’

Simon was ambiguous yesterday about whether the residential units would be rental apartments or condominiums. It had previously described them as condominiums. A spokesman said the company will monitor market conditions to determine how they will be marketed.

The project has attracted controversy in recent weeks, with Boston state representatives Marty Walz and Byron Rushing accusing Governor Deval Patrick’s administration of violating a 1997 agreement regarding the property’s development by signing a revised lease before the impact of the project could be fully reviewed.

Yesterday, Rushing said some of his constituents are concerned the project is being rushed through without adequate consideration of wind issues, traffic, and the need for additional parking.

“People are suspicious that the process seems to be moving faster than usual,’’ Rushing said. “What they are interested in now is how the developer and the Boston Redevelopment Authority will respond to any suggestions that get made.’’

Jackie Yessian, who is cochair of development for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said yesterday that her organization wants to further review the impact of the project on nearby Copley Square and the Southwest Corridor Park.

“We are looking for development that enhances the city and does not detract from the vitality enjoyed by residents and visitors alike,’’ she wrote in an e-mail.

Simon Property executives said in the BRA documents that they have participated in 13 meetings with a citizens advisory committee since 2008 and made several changes in response to public input.

The company said the tower would result in little additional wind in the area, and only brief periods of shadows on Copley Square, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and other nearby areas.

The developer also said the glass-encased garden could be used for art shows and seasonal farmers markets and will have landscaping, carts and kiosks, and wireless Internet access.

A cafe with outdoor seating will be added outside Neiman Marcus to help enliven the entrance to Southwest Corridor Park.

The company has also said it will reconstruct the intersection of Dartmouth and Stuart streets to improve pedestrian flow. The existing Copley Place Central and Dartmouth Street garages can handle parking demand, it said.

The new housing units would quadruple the number of residences at Copley Place. The complex, built by Chicago-based Urban Investment and Development Co. in the 1980s, includes 100 apartments, the Westin and Marriott hotels, four office buildings, a shopping mall, and a 1,400-space parking garage.

The new tower, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, would add nearly 800,000 square feet to Copley Place. In addition to the residences, the project would include a complete renovation of the Neiman Marcus space as well as a large addition to the store, which would remain open during construction.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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