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Quincy OKs $1.3b plan to modernize downtown

An aerial view of the heart of downtown Quincy, which approved a $1.3 billion development plan yesterday to remake its struggling center and shopping district into a new urban destination. An aerial view of the heart of downtown Quincy, which approved a $1.3 billion development plan yesterday to remake its struggling center and shopping district into a new urban destination. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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Quincy is getting its downtown back.

The city approved a $1.3 billion development plan yesterday to remake its struggling shopping district into a new urban destination, with more modern homes, restaurants, and retail stores.

The developer, Street-Works LLC of White Plains, N.Y., is seeking to rebuild Quincy Center essentially from scratch. The area will get new roads and parking garages, up to a dozen new buildings, and a four-acre public green connected to a new historic and cultural center.

The development, one of the largest pending construction projects in the state, is designed to reclaim what many mid-sized Massachusetts cities have lost: A reason for people to return to the downtown streets that were abandoned long ago for the climate-controlled convenience of suburban shopping malls.

“This is going to become a commercial district with tremendous vitality,’’ said Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a fervent backer of the effort. “There will be beautiful public spaces, wide sidewalks, and cafe-style seating. It will be a place people will be proud to go.’’

The City Council yesterday approved a development agreement calling for Street-Works to pay upfront for $227 million in road upgrades and other public improvements.

The city will reimburse that money but not until the project begins producing tax revenue. Construction work, including the relocation of Quincy Town Brook, is scheduled to begin in 2012.

The project still faces hurdles. Street-Works must get state and local approvals for individual phases of work, attract new tenants, and generate funding for construction in a shaky economy.

Kenneth Narva, the company’s managing director, said yesterday he is already in discussions with potential retail tenants and residential developers who would build the homes planned for the development.

“There is tremendous demand for this kind of dense urban living,’’ Narva said. “We are looking to take the best of the past from American and European cities and apply it here.’’

The redeveloped Quincy Center will contain up to 1,200 new apartments and condominiums, more than 1 million square feet of offices, two hotels, a health and wellness center, and about 600,000 square feet of new restaurants and stores. The retail component is equivalent to an average-sized shopping mall.

But the key to the project, Narva said, is that the new Quincy Center will not feel like a shopping mall, but a dynamic urban downtown, with residents living above and around the new stores and other features.

One of the chief attractions will be the planned restructuring of the Adams Visitor Center and Adams National Park, the historic homes of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Street-Works has built similar urban redevelopment projects, including a $220 million project to remake several blocks of West Hartford, Conn., with new restaurants, a five-screen movie theater, and stores such as Crate & Barrel and REI, the outdoor sports retailer. Along with projects in Bethesda, Md., and San Jose, Calif., Street-Works helped create plans for a 66-acre development under way at Assembly Square in Somerville.

The first phase of the Quincy project will be the relocation of the brook and other infrastructure work, to be followed by the retail, offices, hotels, and finally, the residences.

Work on some residential units may begin earlier, but most will be built toward the end of the project.

Quincy officials estimate the project will create 4,100 construction jobs and 5,700 permanent jobs, and $17 million in annual tax revenue when the development is completed. Suffolk Construction of Boston will manage the construction of the project.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.