Columbus Center mega-project officially over
The project's main backer, the California State Pension Fund, said yesterday construction of the $800 million mega-complex is no longer economically feasible and said it was unwinding its involvement.
The decision, coming one month after the state told the developers they were in default of their lease, ends one of the most ambitious and controversial developments in Boston's history. Columbus Center was to be a towering five-building complex of condominiums, hotel rooms and stores that would have straddled the Massachusetts Turnpike and united the city's Back Bay and South End neighborhoods.
But with neighbors and local politicians aligned against it, the project eventually collapsed under its own ambition. By the time Calpers and its local partner, the WinnCompanies, had negotiated an excruciating public review that included more than 130 community meetings, the complex had become so expensive and the economy so weak, that the developers could not borrow the necessary funds to build it.
"The project is not viable today nor is it likely to be viable in the near future," Calpers real estate manager, Stockbridge Capital Group of San Francisco, said in a statement yesterday, adding that it will work with the state and city "towards an amicable resolution.”
While the site has been moribund for nearly two years, yesterday's announcement by the pension fund, known as Calpers, amounted to an official death notice, prompting a collective exhale from neighbors and local leaders whose lives have been dominated by the saga.
"It's great news," said Boston state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. "I'm glad we're finally getting to the end game."
Added State Representative Aaron Michlewitz: "At least now we know we can start looking toward what the future of the site could hold. This has been a long drawn-out process that left the surrounding community in limbos for years."
The legislators and others said there is still some unfinished business with the current development team: getting Calpers to pay to clean up of the site, which was cleared and partially excavated before construction was halted two years ago due to financial troubles.
"We believe it's the developers' responsibility to pay for that work," said Colin Durrant, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. the cleanup could cost $4 to $5 million.
Stockbridge declined to comment beyond its statement.