Preservationists: Proposed expansion of the Hard Rock Cafe garage is bad and the developer should feel bad

In a strongly worded letter, the Boston Preservation Alliance last week urged the BPDA to kill a developer’s plans to rebuild the Hard Rock Cafe garage next to Faneuil Hall Marketplace into what the alliance says would be a monument to god-awfulness.

Fortis Property Group of Brooklyn has proposed adding ten floors of residences on top of the existing seven-story Dock Square garage and sheathing the whole thing in the sort of giant glass panels that are all the rage in luxury construction these days.

The alliance says if the BPDA spends more than 10 seconds seriously contemplating this idea before squashing it like a bug, it should be ashamed of itself:

[W]hen the most recent renderings were shown to our Board of Directors there was a collective gasp and unanimous shaking of heads, even from many architects highly active in new construction in the city. It’s inconceivable how such an egregious affront to the central and character-defining historic assets of this city could even be considered by the BPDA.

The alliance says, if anything, the BPDA should require the owner to commit to tearing down the entire garage and coming up with some less ravaging to the historic nature of the buildings and views around it:

We are not advocating to protect a 1970s parking garage. No one particularly likes the garage, but it is relatively innocuous in its historic context – certainly not contributing to the urban environment but its negative aspects are relatively contained. And down the road, if many predictions hold true and parking demands are less, it can go away and be replaced with something fitting in scale and massing for its historic environment. This proposal, on the other hand, expands a blemish to an outright neighborhood-wide plague, visible from throughout one of the most touristed and photographed areas of the city. It mars iconic views to and from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the North End, the Custom House Tower, the Greenway, and looms over the highly preserved Blackstone Block. And for what gain? What is the public benefit? The debatable, minor enhancements this may make to the public realm over the existing garage are no match for the negative attributes of the proposal. Additionally, by placing high end housing atop the garage and encasing the garage in screens and new glass, the proponent would effectively remove an opportunity to do something wonderful in this space when the garage reaches the end of its lifespan. We will entomb effectively forever the volume of that garage plus a conspicuous addition – new and old both grossly inappropriate for this location.

At a time when the City of Boston has claimed a commendable new vision for a future that reduces carbon emissions by encouraging walking, bicycling, and mass transit, this proposal is diametrically opposed to the City’s broader messaging. Rejecting this proposal is the right thing to do for the Boston’s history and environment. If there is insistence of new construction at this location, this garage should be razed, like others around the city, and a new building designed in deference to this historic context, perhaps with parking below. The short-sighted need for uninterrupted parking today should not drive a poor solution Boston will live with for a century, particularly when such a strategy violates the City’s own goals of carbon-neutrality and “contextually sensitive development… to affirm each neighborhood’s distinct identity”, as stated in the Imagine Boston 2030 document.

But that would be too expensive for the developer? The alliance says it’s not the city’s job to ensure profits for developers at the expense of the greater good:

The argument that a project of such out-of-place scale and massing is the only proposal that makes economic sense is a false construct that is used to justify far too many projects that negatively impact the unique aspects of the city. What that often really means is that a project of this scale is necessary to support an erroneous assumption by a purchaser of what could be constructed. However it isn’t the city’s role to facilitate what may have been a poor business decision. It is not the city’s responsibility to rectify what may be a financial loss predicated on approval before such approval was given, especially at the expense of some of the city’s most valuable historic resources.

Architect’s rendering of the view from the street:

Street view of proposed Dock Square building

Developer’s presentation to the Boston Civic Design Commission (from which the above renderings come, 48M PDF).
More details (11.6M PDF).
More info on Boston Preservation Alliance position.

Aerial view of proposed Dock Square building

Via Hannah Spicher.

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