Filene’s project to resume as major tenant signed

A rendering of the new project.  Handel Architects
A rendering of the new project. Handel Architects

The long-stalled Filene’s redevelopment in downtown Boston will resume within days, as the project’s developer has signed the advertising firm Arnold Worldwide to occupy a large chunk of a $630 million complex of new offices, stores, and luxury homes.

The upcoming work will bring life back to the property and accelerate the broader revitalization of Downtown Crossing, where the blight at Filene’s has undermined an otherwise robust period of construction activity in the area.

“Downtown Crossing is buzzing with new energy, and Arnold Worldwide’s commitment to bring its headquarters to the [Filene’s] building speaks volumes about the future of the neighborhood,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “Today’s announcement marks another significant step forward in the our ongoing efforts to rebuild this part of downtown.”

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Construction on the property will unfold gradually. Developer Millennium Partners will start by rebuilding the original Filene’s store into a retail and office building for Arnold and other tenants. Months later, it will proceed with construction of a 50-plus story tower containing apartments, condominiums and additional stores.

Arnold and its sister agency, Havas Media, will occupy about 125,000 square feet in the restored Filene’s store, which sits at the corner of Washington and Summer Streets, at the center of Downtown Crossing.

“We were drawn to the history of innovation of the Burnham Building and Millennium’s forward-looking plan for the modern workplace that inspires collaboration,” Arnold’s president, Pam Hamlin, said. “We’re also excited to move to a neighborhood that is catering specifically to collaborative and creative companies like Arnold Worldwide. Our new building was a modern architectural first for commerce when it was constructed and we’re all eager to get there and create our own firsts.”

The broader redevelopment project is expected to bring hundreds of new residents as well as new shopping and dining options to an area that has just begun to shrug off a reputation as a second-rate retail destination.

The Filene’s store was the last major building by the renowned architect Daniel Burnham, who died months before its opening in 1912. The building is now gutted and missing an outer wall. But Millennium Partners plans to restore many original architectural details, including its metal and glass canopies and its distinctive wall of glass along Washington and Summer streets, where new retail shops and restaurants will eventually open.

Plans for the Burnham building include more than 135,000 square feet of retail on the lower floors, and nearly 200,000 square feet of office space on the upper floors. In addition to Arnold’s headquarters, 75,000 square feet of office space remains to be leased.

The Filene’s project will join several others already under way in the downtown area, including a 256-unit condo building at Millennium Place, a 381-unit apartment tower by Kensington Investment Co. on Washington Street, and a third residential tower at the edge of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in Chinatown.

The burst of development, which also has brought new retailers to the area, has occurred despite the empty crater at Filene’s.

Construction on the property stalled in 2008, as a deepening recession dried up funding for the massive project. The developers — a team led by New York-based Vornado Realty Trust and Boston developer John B. Hynes III — spent years trying to resurrect the development, to no avail. The city eventually pulled the project’s permit amid a bitter war of words with the developers.

Last year, Millennium Partners took over the effort, revamped the development plans, and won approval for 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential space in two buildings. The main element of the project is a slender glass tower that will contain 450 luxury residences and likely become a new focal point on the city’s skyline. That building will also include another 95,000 square feet of retail space.

While the crater — or the tower over it — has captured most of the attention on the project, the developers have paid equal attention to the restoration of the original Filene’s store, spending the last several months working on designs and trying to find a tenant. The deal with Arnold Worldwide began to firm up in recent months.

Arnold, which was represented by the real estate firm Cassidy Turley of Boston, will take occupancy of the top four floors of the building in September 2014. Millennium Partners was represented by CB Richard Ellis, New England. The developer is exploring getting a grocery store and other retailers for the lower floors, but no retail tenants have been signed.

The project will also result in the renovation of a neighboring park that would get a new MBTA station entrance and an outdoor amphitheater. It remains unclear when that work will begin.

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