Downtown Crossing businesses cheer new Filene’s plan

Merchants and businesses in Boston’s Downtown Crossing are feeling optimistic about the redevelopment of the shopping district now that the Filene’s project appears to be back on track with a 600-foot skyscraper.

A forum at Suffolk University met Wednesday to discuss the future of Downtown Crossing, just two days after Millennium Partners revealed detailed plans for the redeveloping the Filene’s block at One Franklin Street that will include some 500 residences and significant retail space in a complex that includes a slender glass tower 55 stories high.

Legal Sea Foods president Roger Berkowitz said the addition of a large bloc of housing will greatly enhance activity throughout the district.

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“Now you start to bring in residential which gives it more of the 24/7 scenario. It’s not 6 o'clock and everyone is leaving. So now that we have a residential mix, it’s much more exciting,” said Berkowitz, a member of panel that presented at the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

The featured speaker was prominent Boston architect Howard Elkus, who said the community now needs what other development is necessary to make Downtown Crossing a thriving district.

“At this moment of unprecedented return to city living, what is the vision, what is the big idea for the historic heart of Boston?” asked Elkus, principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects.

His own answers include a supermarket, more retail spaces, as well as more utilitarian shops like dry cleaners and cobblers.

Berkowitz also said that one of the biggest hurdles keeping people away from the area in the evening is the perception of Downtown Crossing as a dangerous area, an idea panelists admitted has been hard to change despite the fact that city statistics show crime there is relatively low.

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