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Planned expansion of Landmark Center gets positive reviews

Posted by boston.com  February 6, 2014 12:32 PM

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It is late afternoon and steady streams of people are making their way to the Fenway MBTA station. Some are dressed in suits, others in scrubs, and others more casually in jeans and sneakers. They all seem to emerge from the Landmark Center, a multi-service building that looms over the T stop.

This is a usual scene during weekdays in the Fenway, at the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Park Drive. The area, known for its proximity to Fenway Park and the Audubon Circle community, is the site of the Landmark Center, which provides office space for companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and a variety of retail stores including Bed, Bath & Beyond and Best Buy.

On Jan. 16, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved an expansion project for the Landmark Center. The project will renovate the interior of the current building, and expand to build a new section dedicated to housing development. The expansion is expected to create 550 housing units, more office and retail space, and the construction of a Wegmans supermarket.

Bill Richardson, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said the FCA and its members back the recently expansion plan.

¨We support it because it is predominantly residential,¨ Richardson said in a telephone interview. ¨We have been supporting all the residential projects in the neighborhood.¨

The Landmark Center expansion is a continuation of several development projects in the Fenway area by Samuels & Associates, a development firm that currently owns the Landmark Center. Samuels & Associates has been an active player in the Fenway since 2004. In the past 10 years, Samuels & Associates has built and redeveloped the Fenway community through the construction of the Fenway Triangle Trilogy and the 1330 Boylston St. building.

¨We believe that there is certainly a demand for housing in the city of Boston,¨ Richardson said. ¨I think the number one complaint among the younger people is that housing is too expensive, and there is only one way to tackle that -- try to get more housing.¨

The Landmark Center project will be part of three new housing-oriented projects in the area, which under BRA regulations will include onsite affordable housing units. The regulations, which are part of the Inclusionary development policy created by former Mayor Thomas M. Menino in 2000, require that any residential development have at least 10 percent of the total housing units be affordable housing for moderate to middle-income residents.

The Landmark Cente, along with The Point and the Van Ness Street projects, will add more than 1,000 new housing units into the Brookline Avenue corridor that runs from Kenmore Square to Park Drive.

¨Having more residences will create a better business environment,¨ Richardson said. ¨We are trying to set up a new city, where it is live- work in the same area as opposed to commuting.¨

In addition to the housing development, the Landmark Center expansion aims to create new and improve retail and office space. With its main tenant, Blue Cross Blue Shield, leaving in mid-2015, Samuels & Associates plans to renovate the inside of the existing building, fix the infrastructure, remove the above ground parking garage, and construct a Wegmans. The Wegmans supermarket chain is family run and based in Gates, N.Y. It opened its first store in Massachusetts in 2011 in Northborough. The project is expected to generate more than a thousand construction jobs, and around 600 permanent jobs mainly coming from the Wegmans.

The expansion project will also help ease some of the pedestrian and commuting traffic in the area by creating an open space with pedestrian pathways near the Fenway MBTA stop, where a current open parking lot is located. It will also include the modification plans for parts of Brookline Avenue and the Park Drive intersection that will reduce congestion.

The project, the developers say, wil also include the construction of a bike lane that will connect the Riverway Park bike path to Fenway Park and Kenmore Square.

Many of the employees of the various tenants of the Landmark Center and regular commuters to the area knew little about the expansion project or its recent approval.

However, the few that were aware of the project expressed approval. Most said the project would be good for the community and business in the area, but some worried about the increased in traffic congestion in an area already known for traffic problems.

¨I think is going to bring probably more traffic to the area,¨ said Monica Skelly, an employee of one of the Landmark Center´s tenants, the Boston Children´s Hospital, which currently has administrative offices on the sixth floor of the building, ¨especially, if there is going to be a grocery store in here and apartments.¨

While Skelly worries about the possible traffic increase, others see this as a positive project that will increase the green space and aesthetics of the area.

¨It sounds like it is going to make it a lot nicer,¨ said Kaarisa Colonel, an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield. ¨Anytime there is an addition of a park or green area it definitely makes the area seem nicer."

Colonel also said the project is part of a trend in the area, which already has several development projects underway. Aisha Owens, who also works at the Landmark Center and commutes every day, agrees with Colonel. Owens sees the expansion as an avenue for new jobs in the community.

“I think is just a great opportunity to bring a little bit more businesses and jobs into the area,¨ Owens said. ¨There will also be more shopping options.¨

Ana Melo, who also works at the Landmark Center, has a positive view of the expansion too. Melo agrees with Colonel and Owens about the improvement it would have on the economy and appearance of the area. Melo also expressed hopes that the project will improve the hectic traffic of both cars and people in the afternoons when people are trying to get home.

¨It´s going to have more people,¨ said Melo referring to the Landmark Center post- expansion. ¨It´s going to be hectic like when we have Red Sox´s games.¨

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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