With Boston's office market recovering and developers beginning to jockey for position, International Place builder Donald Chiofaro is readying plans for a huge new tower across the Rose Kennedy Greenway from the twin office towers he built in the city's last great building boom more than a decade ago.
Chiofaro, one of Boston's best-known developers, won't comment on his plans, which are preliminary. But two City Hall sources said yesterday that Chiofaro is negotiating an option to buy the parking garage across from the New England Aquarium and wants to build a tower on the site that would largely be residential and rival in scale the nearby 400-foot-high Harbor Towers.
The 1,380-space garage is owned by Urban Growth Property Trust, which bought it six years ago from Equity Office Properties as part of a $180 million transaction that included parking garages in five cities. Urban Growth could not be reached for comment.
Chiofaro is scheduled to present his initial ideas for the site today to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. A BRA spokeswoman declined to comment, but a city official said the agency would be open to Chiofaro's plans to demolish the garage -- considered an eyesore on the new Greenway -- and build a tower with underground parking.
Chiofaro's proposal comes at a time of renewed interest in tall buildings in Boston.
In February, Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed building a 1,000-foot tower on the site of a city-owned garage in Winthrop Square.
Among other projects in the pipeline: Equity Office's proposed 31-floor tower at Russia Wharf on the Greenway and Boston developer Joseph Fallon's plans for a smaller office building on Fan Pier. And Hines Interests LP of Houston continues to push its long-stalled tower over South Station, while Delaware North Cos. has zoning in place for two 40-story towers at North Station.
The activity has been fueled by declining vacancy rates and rising office rents, particularly in the downtown business district. Commercial real estate broker Grubb & Ellis reports that office vacancies in the central business district fell to 11.5 percent in the first quarter, dipping below 12 percent for the first time in four years. Rents in the top floors of some towers in the Back Bay are being quoted a $60 a square foot, Grubb & Ellis said.
Chiofaro, a model for Tom Wolfe's high-living, highly extended real estate mogul in the novel, ``A Man in Full," has proven himself a survivor in Boston's real estate world. Two years ago, he used bankruptcy protection to block New York-based Tishman Speyer Properties from seizing control of International Place. Proclaiming Tishman and his associates ``a gang of pirates," Chiofaro brought in a new partner, Prudential Real Estate Investors. While he significantly reduced his own stake, and Tishman walked away with an estimated $40 million as a consolation prize, Chiofaro was able to maintain his position atop his beloved International Place.
At best, the tenacious Chiofaro has a mixed relationship with city officials. Currently, he is seeking a tax abatement that would cut International Place's $17.6 million property taxes by $3.75 million for fiscal year 2005. City officials, sensitive to rising property taxes for homeowners, are staunchly opposed.
``They believe they can raise $734 million in capital for the property, and then claim it's only worth $424 million for property-tax purposes," said city assessor Ronald Rakow. ``We disagree."
Chiofaro's partner, Ted Oatis, said they have ``a pending tax-abatement case with the city assessor. It is a commercial disagreement and is in process. We have a fiduciary duty to our tenants and investor partners, and we are relying upon expert advisers. Our only goal is a fair and reasonable result."
Steve Bailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2902.