Image courtesy of Elkus Manfredi

Developer Stephen Weiner’s requests for design changes delayed the failed 1000 Boylston luxury condominium project, which was already facing a $35 million cost escalation, according to new testimony in a legal battle between Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and Boston developer Weiner Ventures.

The delays added $1.2 million a day to the estimated project cost and strained the joint venture business partnership which broke apart in 2019.

In a deposition made public last week, Weiner defended his management of the project, including a plan to install 80 metal trees on Boylston Street at a cost of $1.6 million.

“That product was always intended, from day one, to be the best project the city has ever seen,” Weiner testified. “That was the principal goal. Principal goal that was in my mind all the time. I ate it. I slept it. I lived it.”

Weiner’s testimony, spanning more than five hours on consecutive days, was halted several times at the request of Weiner’s physician, who was monitoring his vital signs. Testifying remotely from Florida, Weiner blamed Fish for failure to obtain a key state permit required for the air rights project above the Massachusetts Turnpike.

“The person who was going to get the permits, insisted on getting the permits, delivered nothing,” Weiner said. “That is also part of the reason for delays.”

The testimony gives new insights into issues leading to the breakdown of the project, which had been envisioned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation since 2008. The dispute came to a head in August 2019 when Weiner announced that the project was canceled, following the two sides’ failure to agree on financial terms to keep it moving forward. Fish scrambled to recruit other investors, but MassDOT terminated the air rights agreement in October 2019.

In the civil suit, originally filed in 2019, Fish blamed Weiner Ventures for “gross mismanagement” of the estimated $800 million project. 

In the Feb. 27 and 28 deposition, Weiner said he was concerned about delivering a high-end product that would be attractive to buyers. Developers estimated that they would need to sell units at $1,850 per square foot to break even, higher than average sales price at the MP Boston’s Millennium Tower at Downtown Crossing.

“We needed a project that would sell. We needed a project that was financeable,” Weiner said, responding to questioning from Fish’s attorney Paul Popeo. “[How] many times do you have to hear this?”

Weiner acknowledged that a final design was never selected for the 440,000-square-foot tower, which was approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency in 2018.

“We were constantly changing the floor plans and the specs based on numerous things that we saw, the architect saw, or we were understanding,” he said.

Wiener’s testimony touched on many of the key issues in the civil lawsuit, being heard in Suffolk Superior Court’s business litigation session. Among the topics:

Design Changes: Fish and architects expressed impatience with Weiner’s approach to the building design, and failure to finalize a budget before discussing additional changes with architects. The discussion about installing 20 metal trees along Boylston Street took place in 2018, when the project cost had already risen $35 million higher than developers’ pro forma. Weiner said the city of Boston required landscaping as part of the project, but live trees could not be installed on the elevated deck above the Turnpike.

Architect David Manfredi warned Stephen Weiner that the tower’s balconies would leak and that noise from elevator shafts would disturb residents unless the budget were adjusted.

“And the very first comment I gave the architect was, ‘Oh my gosh, the last thing we want is to be sued and I don’t want the contractor to be sued for this sort of thing,’” Weiner testified.

Fish’s Role in Site Selection: The Massachusetts Department of Transportation offered Turnpike air rights parcels 12 and 15 to developers in September 2008, four months after a partnership of Weiner and Fish acquired a nearby parcel on Scotia Street. Weiner testified that Fish selected the location for the parcel 15 project, and that Weiner Ventures would be the developer and Suffolk acting as the contractor.

Lender’s Concerns: In early 2019, developers were in talks with TCI Fund Management about a potential construction loan, which would have required developers to submit $40 million to $60 million in guarantees or letters of credit. Weiner said his firm agreed to waive its developer fee, estimated at up to $14 million, to keep the project alive. Fish proposed a revised agreement in August 2019 regarding the two sides’ potential returns, which Weiner rejected.

A hearing is scheduled for April 27 for Judge Kenneth Salinger to consider a motion to compel additional testimony from Weiner.

Metal Trees, Noisy Elevators and a $35M Cost Overrun

by Steve Adams time to read: 3 min