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Fenway wonders what’s cooking on Restaurant Row

Owner says he expects to begin rebuilding fire-damaged block by end of the year

Lori Frankian, a longtime Fenway resident, said of the fire-gutted buildings: ‘It’s depressing to wake up and see this every day.’’ Lori Frankian, a longtime Fenway resident, said of the fire-gutted buildings: ‘It’s depressing to wake up and see this every day.’’ (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / September 26, 2010

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Fenway residents had hoped for a quick restoration of their treasured block of restaurants that was destroyed in a fast-moving fire early last year.

But 19 months later, Restaurant Row sits empty.

After months of silence on the issue, the property’s owner, Monty Gold, now says he expects construction to begin by the end of the year.

“I can tell you that something is going to happen soon,’’ Gold said. “The building is going to be put back together the way it was.’’

But Gold has not filed formal papers with the city to get the project moving, and across the neighborhood, frustration is mounting over previous promises to quickly rebuild that have not come to pass.

“I think the community has been patient, the city has been patient, and I don’t think there is a lot of patience left,’’ said City Councilor Michael Ross, who has been prodding Gold on the matter.

Neighbors who have watched as new restaurants sprout up on nearby Boylston Street are feeling a sense of hopelessness about Restaurant Row, an intimate nook set amid the brick apartment buildings there.

A fire early the morning of Jan. 6, 2009 destroyed that haven, ripping through Thornton’s Fenway Grille and spreading across five other restaurants and a dry cleaner. The fire caused $5 million in damage, displaced the business owners who leased space there, and left residents mourning the loss of some of their favorite places to dine.

“When you lose an essential fabric in the heart of the neighborhood, it takes away from the life that you once knew,’’ said Lori Frankian, a longtime resident. “It’s depressing to wake up and see this every day.’’

City officials pledged to work with the businesses to restore jobs and get the merchants to reopen. But today, the charred remains of Restaurant Row sit idle behind a wire fence. Murals, painted by schoolchildren last fall, cover its facade.

“Everyone expected it would happen faster,’’ said David Brennan, a 62-year-old book editor who lives near there. “To me this feels like a loss of the neighborhood.’’

Ross said Gold promised to quickly rebuild. Last year, the councilor thought things were moving along when he helped to end a disagreement between Gold and his partners over what to do with the property. Gold was putting plans together, but he let months go by before contacting the city. In the end, Ross said, neither he nor the city can force Gold, a private property owner, to move any faster.

“The only delay is coming from Monty Gold,’’ Ross said. “The city is ready, willing, and able to get this developed.’’

Gold, who has owned the property for 25 years, concedes that he has been slow to get going and cites personal reasons for the delays, which he declined to specify.

He said he had spent a considerable amount of time researching ideas for a hotel atop retail space at the site, as well as an apartment building. But he said he scrapped both plans.

“I certainly understand the frustration’’ in the community, Gold said. “I’m moving the best that I’m capable of.’’

Gold said things are finally moving. Plans have been drawn up, he said, and contractors have been contacted. He has received two bids for the work, he said, and is expecting two more before making his selection and notifying the city.

Gold also said he is willing to meet with residents, but only wants to do so when he has “something concrete’’ to report.

So, residents wait. And so do the displaced restaurateurs.

“That is where we started,’’ said Jim Hoben, who runs El Pelón Taqueria and who opened a new restaurant near Boston College in March. “We had been there for 10 years. We have a strong connection in the community. People still invite us to events down there.’’

After the fire, Martin Thornton also opened a new spot in a building he owns in Providence. He, too, would like to return to Fenway sooner, but he said he understands that these things take time.

“I’m sure he’s not dragging his feet,’’ Thornton said of Gold. “I’m sure he wants to get back into the business like everyone else.’’

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.

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