Changes on the waterfront
Apartments may soon replace parking lots
If 2012 ends up as planned, it will be the year the South Boston Waterfront started to feel like a neighborhood.
Developers are proposing to start construction on more than 1,700 apartments in coming months, hoping to replace some of the area’s vast parking lots with sleek glass buildings that will lure more residents, retailers, and shoppers.
The projects range from a pair of towers across from the federal courthouse, to a 21-story apartment and retail building at Pier 4, to a 197-unit apartment complex on D Street next to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Together, those and many other developments promise to provide what the waterfront lacks: sustained activity on streets that currently empty out after 5 p.m., when thousands of office workers head home for the night.
“It’s incredibly important to get residences down there,’’ said Ed Nardi, a principal of Cresset Development, which is proposing to build the 197-unit complex on D Street. He said he hopes the project will “add a 24-7 element to the area’’ and give more reasons for retailers and growing companies to move there.
The waterfront, branded the Innovation District by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, has already proved successful at attracting new companies. By the city’s count, more than 90 businesses have moved there during the past two years, helping to spur construction of new complexes like Liberty Wharf (also by Cresset Development) and Joseph Fallon’s 23-acre Fan Pier project.
But the district remains in the early stages of its redevelopment, with much of its landscape still fenced-off industrial yards and massive parking lots. In many places it still feels desolate and windswept, with few walking connections among its restaurants, attractions, and scattered public parks.
The upcoming apartment projects will fill in some of that empty space and begin to generate around-the-clock activity, but real estate specialists said it’s an open question whether people will move to the area en masse if it doesn’t have basic retail options such as a supermarket.
“It will be interesting to see at what point people start to look around and say, ‘We need the rest of the neighborhood to catch up before we move in,’ ’’ said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “They may decide to wait because the other amenities are not there yet.’’
Many of the proposed projects would address that shortcoming by incorporating new retail stores and restaurants into their buildings. At Seaport Square, developer John B. Hynes, has talked of opening a cinema complex as part of a multistory retail base that would also include other retail shops, restaurants, and possibly a supermarket.
Waterside Place developer John Drew has said his 19-story building, located on Congress Street in the heart of the district, will include retail space in the first phase and may include a large retail store or food market in later stages of work. And the 21-story tower at Pier 4 is also expected to contain new restaurants at the base of the building.
Developers and city officials are also hoping the waterfront projects will create a new model for residential development in the city by incorporating smaller, less expensive units that will be more affordable for young researchers and technology workers moving into the area.
Some of the units being planned on the waterfront are as small as 375 square feet, barely enough room for a galley kitchen, bathroom, and living/bedroom. Rents are expected to range between $1,200 and $1,500 per unit, depending on the building.
Joel Bargmann, an architect working on several residential projects in the area including 63 Melcher, said he has designed units under 500 square feet that could house two people, either a couple or roommates. He said he is also working on one- and two-bedroom units in other buildings that could house empty nesters or a young couple.
“What I sense developers trying to do is create more of a mixed neighborhood,’’ said Bargmann, principal of the firm Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype Inc. “It’s not only [housing] opportunities for first-time workers, but older people as well.’’
Dozens of the smaller units are expected to be built during the first wave of apartment construction on the waterfront in the next several months. City officials are also pushing housing developers to include offices in their buildings for start-up firms and other entrepreneurial ventures interested in moving to the area. Such spaces are included in Waterside Place, Seaport Square, and 411 D Street.
Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.