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Focusing on Fort Point

31-story Atlantic Wharf adds two more tenants, further transforming Boston’s waterfront

Soaring columns rise in Nelson Court (above) in the Atlantic Wharf building. Soaring columns rise in Nelson Court (above) in the Atlantic Wharf building. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / January 11, 2011

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With its sail-shaped design, Boston’s newest skyscraper is a 31-story invitation to the city’s newest gathering spot on the water.

The glass-walled tower at the corner of Congress Street and Atlantic Avenue is the largest development yet in a decades-long effort to transform the Fort Point Channel into a contemporary waterfront with residences, restaurants, boating tours, and cultural institutions.

And in addition to being one of the few to open during a slowdown in the commercial building sector, the $550 million Atlantic Wharf complex will probably be the last large property built on the downtown side of the city’s waterfront for some time. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino last year moved to restrict the size of buildings along the new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, just inland from the channel and waterfront.

Yesterday, developer Boston Properties announced the latest additions to the complex: steakhouse Smith & Wollensky and the Boston Society of Architects, which will also run architecture tours in the area from its new offices.

“It’s all about activating this space for the public,’’ said Michael Cantalupa, a Boston Properties executive. “You can expect performances, art and architecture, and restaurants that will spill onto the plaza.’’

The property features an expansive plaza on the waterfront and a series of new docks that will allow for water-taxi service, tour boats, and private docking for small vessels.

Later this month the building’s first major office tenant, investment firm Wellington Management, will begin moving into the 18 floors of space it has leased in the complex.

Over years of planning, Boston Properties made multiple revisions to Atlantic Wharf, most significantly reducing the number of residences there to 86, from 165 units, while increasing the amount of office space.

Designed by CBT Architects, the complex occupies a long city block between the Fort Point Channel and the Greenway. It includes a seven-story residential structure along Atlantic Avenue, and a 31-story office tower whose base is fashioned out of the former Tufts and Graphic Arts buildings. Those buildings were gutted to make way for new offices, public event space, and ground-floor restaurants.

Smith & Wollensky, recruited in part by Menino, will open a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the channel side this summer, with outdoor bar and dining. The restaurant will retain its existing Boston location on Arlington Street.

Atlantic Wharf will ultimately contain four other restaurants, including a coffee shop, casual lunch spots, and another fine-dining restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. The coffee shop is expected to be operated by Sorelle, which has two locations in Charlestown. The operators of the other restaurants have not been announced, although Boston Properties said at least one will be operated by a celebrity chef.

Menino yesterday called the project the “cornerstone’’ of the city’s efforts to transform Fort Point Channel into a recreational waterway. The channel, once a workhorse of industry and a staging area for protests that preceded the Revolutionary War, was rid of many of its pollutants during the Boston Harbor cleanup and in recent years has benefited from surrounding redevelopment. The InterContinental Hotel opened in 2006 and the Boston Children’s Museum expanded and redesigned its building on the channel.

The Boston Society of Architects’ 15,000 square feet of offices will be three times its current space at 52 Broad St. The added room will allow the group to host bigger public exhibitions.

“This space gives us an opportunity to inspire the public about what architects do,’’ said BSA president Audrey O’Hagan. “It will raise the visibility of architecture and draw in people for exhibitions, forums, and intellectual exchanges.’’

The BSA’s space is being designed by Howeler + Yoon Architecture, which won a competition to develop the concept for its offices and gallery.

Eric Howeler, a principal of the firm, said he hopes to incorporate a variety of technologies to make the space more interactive.

“It’s a media project as well as the bricks and mortar,’’ he said. “The idea is to have information consoles so you can figure out what projects are under construction or download a podcast so you can take an architectural guided tour of the city.’’

In addition to the BSA offices, the new complex also includes a multimedia room available for use by local arts organizations and other groups. Boston Cyberarts, a nonprofit, has been hired to program a series of music, dance, and other performances in the complex over the next year.

The tower will also be the central gathering spot in April and May for the 2011 Cyberarts Festival, a celebration for artists working in new technologies.

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