High-rise retail and housing project proposed for Boston

A New York developer is proposing to build a $200 million retail and housing development in Downtown Crossing, a milestone in Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino's effort to revitalize the city's central shopping district.

Midwood Management Corp. wants permission to raze several buildings at the northern corner of Bromfield and Washington streets, and replace them with a 28-story building that will include 260 units of luxury apartment units, three floors of retail space, and three floors of underground parking, according to city officials.

The existing buildings are currently home to a number of stores, including Payless ShoeSource, Wendy's, CitySports, and the Bromfield Pen Shop.

The location is on a diagonal from the Filene's block, where a development team led by John B. Hynes III has received city approval to build a massive retail, hotel, and office complex above the historic department store.

Midwood is expected to file formal plans with the Boston Redevelopment Authority later this week and hopes to begin construction in 2010.

"We believe rental housing has a role in downtown Boston's continuing growth," said Paul Davis, a Midwood senior vice president. "We looked at condos, but we think rental housing is more appropriate for us."

Menino disclosed the Midwood project at the start of a five-hour tour of Downtown Crossing and other city commercial districts that he led to interest real estate developers and retailers in Boston. Midwood, he said, is the latest in a stream of development projects planned for Boston - some 60 altogether worth about $4 billion in new investment.

"Despite the national economic [slowdown], Boston's economy is strong," Menino said. The tour was timed to coincide with a regional trade show for retailers, developers, and real estate brokers being held in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center today and tomorrow.

The Midwood development is the latest in a buzz of development to hit Downtown Crossing. The city estimated there are 2,900 residential units in the neighborhood, with 1,350 more under construction, including college dorms. Indeed, Menino kicked off his walking tour of Downtown Crossing at the Hayward Place parking lot on Washington Street, where a $200 million, 14-story residential and retail building is planned. Closer to Millwood's location is 45 Province Street, an ultra-luxe condominium tower now under construction and slated to open in 2009. Hynes is currently lining up funding and tenants for the office, hotel, and retail complex across the street at Washington and Franklin streets. Down Washington Street, Emerson College is embarking on an $80 million renovation and addition to the Paramount Theater that will include a 262-bed dormitory, black box theater, and class-related facilities.

"I think Downtown Crossing is on the verge of greatness," said Lisa Campoli, executive vice president for commercial real estate brokerage Colliers Meredith & Grew in Boston. But Campoli said it's unclear how many of the proposals will become reality because tightening credit markets have made it difficult for some developers to finance construction.

"It's a question of capital," she said. "I think if half the projects went through, it would be in great shape. There is so much potential there."

The city has announced a number of initiatives to help spruce up the neighborhood, including lighting, sidewalk repair, and solar-powered trash cans.

Midwood is generally a low-profile firm with a long history. It owns 100 properties spanning more than 3.5 million square feet nationwide, including in New York and Philadelphia. This would be its only development in the Boston area.

Based on New York's Park Avenue, Midwood owns or operates properties in at least six states, ranging from upscale apartments to suburban shopping centers with tenants such as Stop & Shop, TGI Friday's, Home Depot, and Walgreens.

The company was founded roughly 80 years ago by Samuel Lemberg, an important early donor to Brandeis University in Waltham. An academic building on campus is named for him. Current Midwood president John Usdan, Lemberg's grandson, is a Brandeis trustee.

Davis, the company executive, said Midwood normally keeps properties it develops, rather than selling them to investors, and plans to do the same with the Downtown Crossing development.

In addition, Davis said Midwood hopes to work with several existing tenants, including CitySports and the Bromfield Pen Shop, to accommodate them in the new building. The new building will have 60,000 square feet of retail space.

"There will be new tenants, and there will be relocation of tenants," Davis said.

The city said it will try to assist any stores that are forced to move.

Mike Kennedy, cofounder and chief executive of CitySports, said he wasn't surprised by the announcement, because he knew Midwood had acquired the buildings. He said CitySports has been in Downtown Crossing for about 15 years and plans to remain there for the long term - either in the new building or nearby.

"There's plenty of time to work it all out. If it doesn't work out for us" to stay, Kennedy said, "we'll find something else."

Other businesses located there could not be reached for comment.


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