Boston-based Druker Co. received approval of its Boylston Street office tower in 2009 and again in 2019, when it notified the Boston Planning and Development Agency it expected to break ground in the third quarter 2020. The developer now says it’s waiting for an anchor tenant to begin construction. Image courtesy of Robert A.M. Stern

The Boston Red Sox had just signed Curt Schilling to a one-year contract extension. Celebrity chef Todd English was preparing to open his new Bonfire restaurant at Logan International Airport. And Boston-based developer The Druker Co. submitted plans in November 2007 to demolish four commercial buildings on Boylston Street for a 221,000-square-foot office tower. 

More than 13 years later, no demolition or construction has begun on the site and the project is on the backburner until an anchor tenant leases the office space. 

“We are not planning to do 350 Boylston on spec, and while we have had good leasing conversations, nothing is firm yet,” Druker Co. said in a statement responding to an inquiry on the project’s status. 

The 350 Boylston St. project is an outlier in an era of historically busy development activity in Boston, proving that not all projects are created equal. While many have moved from initial permitting to ribbon-cuttings with few hiccups, others have languished for years through the global financial crisis, economic recovery and into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is generational wealth and local families who I am sure would like to have these projects done now, but are not going to rush and check a box to get something built,” said Aaron Jodka, national director of capital markets research for Colliers International. “They want to get it right.” 

The Druker Co. has taken a similarly patient approach to the development prospects for a parking lot at 80 East Berkeley St., where it’s had approvals since 2013 to build a 308,000-square-foot office building. 

In the meantime, other developers such as Burlington-based Nordblom Co. have moved forward with large-scale projects in South End, testing demand for commercial space south of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Nordblom’s speculative office building which broke ground in 2018 at 321 Harrison Ave. appears to have paid off even without a confirmed anchor tenant, as life science specialist BioMed Realty recently agreed to buy the property for a lab conversion. 

State Red Tape Ties up Projects 

Other projects have complex regulatory issues waiting to be ironed out, including state environmental reviews, necessary agreements with state agencies and litigation that has kept building permits out of reach. Air rights projects led by state agencies have had some of the most glacial timelines. 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation began talks with developers in the 1990s on a privately-owned tower above South Station, when Tufts University’s real estate arm originally sought to build the project. Following a series of changes in development teams, building designs and financial partners, Houston-based Hines began work on the 1.1 million-square-foot office-residential tower in early 2020. 

Rafi Properties’ plans for a 30-story residential tower on the former Felt nightclub site at Downtown Crossing never proceeded past the early stages of permitting. Image courtesy of Stantec

Similarly, attempts to build on MassDOT air rights parcel 13 above the MBTA’s Hynes Green Line station went through a change of designated developer in 2014, when Peebles Corp. was selected to lead the project. The Miami developer began formal permitting with the Boston Planning & Development Agency in early 2020, announcing plans for a 432,000-square-foot hotel and condo project and new MBTA headhouses. The development team continues to work through “design and operations challenges” on the air rights above both Hynes station and the Mass Pike and expects to kick off the permitting and review this summer, said Mark Rosenshein, a partner at Boston-based Trademark Partners, which is working with Peebles Corp. on the project. 

Complex state regulations governing waterfront development have added years to the timeline to redevelop The Chiofaro Co.’s harbor garage property on East India Row as The Pinnacle, an 865,000-square-foot office and residential skyscraper. 

An advisory group met more than 40 times over four years negotiating public benefits with the Boston-based developer, but lawsuits by the Conservation Law Foundation and Harbor Towers 2 condo trustees put the project approval in jeopardy. A Suffolk Superior Court judge this month sided with opponents, striking down former state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matt Beaton’s 2018 approval of Boston’s new downtown waterfront zoning. 

High-Rise on DTX Nightclub Site 

Boston-based Rafi Properties saw an opportunity to tap into the revitalization of Downtown Crossing following the completion of the luxury Millennium Tower condos.  

In 2016, it proposed a 30-story residential tower on a 3,648-square-foot parcel at 533 Washington St. previously occupied by Felt nightclub.  

The project never progressed past early permitting stages and was formally withdrawn prior to COVID, BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin confirmed. 

Rafi Properties was unavailable for comment on the reason not to pursue the Boston project, but has moved on to new ventures including the Somernova Innovation Hub in Somerville’s Union Square. A corporation affiliated with Rafi Properties founder Collin Yip still is listed as property owner. 

Steve Adams

Skinny Hotels in the Bulfinch Triangle 

With the massive Hub on Causeway and Bulfinch Crossing mixed-use projects rising at either end, the Bulfinch Triangle historic district has attracted more interest from developers in recent years, with two firms eyeing small parcels in the neighborhood for slender hotel towers.  

Woburn-based Somnath Hospitality received approval in 2014 for a 15-story, 90-room hotel replacing a vacant bank branch on a 3,600-square-foot lot at 104 Canal St. Although a building permit was issued for the project in 2015, no work has taken place. Somnath could not be reached for comment. 

Three blocks away, a micro-hotel proposal was approved by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals in 2017 and the BPDA in 2018. LIMAC LLC, which is listed as an affiliate of Wilmington-based MacKay Construction, proposed a 14-story, 64-room, limitedservice hotel at 88 North Washington St., a 2,163-square-foot parcel that formerly housed a gas station. Abutters filed a lawsuit challenging the ZBA approval in 2017 and the case was settled in 2019, according to Suffolk Superior Court records. A message left with MacKay Construction was not returned. 

Crowds take part in the 2015 HONK festival in Davis Square in this file photo. Student housing developer Scape has purchased several buildings in the area but has so far held back on pitching a firm project proposal.

Student Housing in Davis Square 

Scape USA, the Boston-based arm of a British student housing specialist, has begun demolition of a commercial block in Boston’s Fenway for 477 apartments at 1252-1270 Boylston St. But the developer hasn’t yet made visible moves on its other high-profile project across the Charles River. The developer sought to tap into Somerville’s student housing market with the $10 million acquisition in 2019 of three retail buildings and a parking lot in the heart of Davis Square, which was recently rezoned for taller building heights. 

Scape said at the time it was “fully committed to a transparent process that engages all stakeholders as we move forward on specific plans over the next few years.” But Scape has kept a low profile in Somerville to date.  

Ward 6 City Councilor Lance Davis said this week he has not been informed of any imminent development plans, and Somerville Executive Director of Strategic Planning George Proakis said no timeline or formal proposal has been submitted. A Scape spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment. 

What’s the Hold-up with These Projects?

by Steve Adams time to read: 5 min