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Old 10-17-2006, 08:11 AM   #1
statler
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Under Construction Four Seasons Tower @ CSC | 1 Dalton Street | Back Bay

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Globe
Church looking to redevelop
Christian Scientists will solicit proposals from urban planners for unused land on their campus

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff | October 17, 2006

The First Church of Christ, Scientist said yesterday it plans to redevelop portions of its 14-acre property in Boston's Back Bay, including possible construction of new buildings, as it looks to unload unused space and make money on its prime location.

The church's new plans may lead to alterations to the unusual open campus designed in the 1960s by the firm of renowned architect I.M. Pei, a location that, with its reflecting pool and fountain, is one of Boston's most visually recognizable sites and a popular tourist attraction.

In interviews yesterday, church officials said that in a month or so they will solicit proposals from urban planners and architects that could result in the addition of office or residential space on the largely open block between the Prudential Center and Symphony Hall in the Back Bay.

``We're not sure what this is going to look like in the end," said Philip G. Davis, manager of the Committees on Publication, the department that speaks for the church.

As part of the plan, church officials will consolidate all its employees into its publishing building, which would free up as many as three other buildings for reuse or redevelopment.

The spacious campus and buildings were designed by architect Araldo A. Cossutta, who was with the firm of I.M. Pei and Partners, as part of urban renewal around the historic church.

The property is governed by a special institutional zoning plan that allows new structures of up to 75 feet tall, and in some cases up to 115 feet. But Barbara Burley, the church's senior manager of real estate planning and operations, expects the final proposals will likely be for bigger buildings.

``We would be asking for something in excess of those height restrictions, whatever they are," she said, adding that neighbors and the public will be involved in the planning.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist emphasizes healing through prayer rather than medicine. Officials say more revenue from real estate would allow them to better perform their mission.

Executives said they are committed to maintaining the wide public use of the space, characterized by the broad, open plaza, reflecting pool, and fountain that separate the church's structures.

``The church recognizes the value of this space to the community," Davis said. A small Sunday School building near Horticultural Hall also could be redeveloped; the church owns both buildings.

Alex Krieger of Chan Krieger Associates, a Cambridge architectural firm, said redesigning the church's campus ``would be an extremely tough assignment one could easily botch up."

``There's something very pristine and elegant about the composition, very classical," he said. But he added: ``In the abstract you can always imagine some masterful solution that would maintain the integrity of the buildings and open space."

Church officials have reached out to Cossutta to see if he wants to be involved in the redesign, according to Nancy Sterling of ML Strategies, which is advising them on real estate matters. ``He seems amenable to continuing the conversation," she said.

In a statement, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the church's planning effort shows its ``strong commitment to our city." A Boston Redevelopment Authority spokeswoman, Susan Elsbree, said the city would benefit because any new buildings would likely pay property taxes, unlike church property.

Davis and other church officials said the 500 remaining employees of the church will be housed in the nine-floor Publishing House building on Massachusetts Avenue. Employees will be moved from the 26-floor Huntington Avenue tower known as the Administration building and the elongated, five-story Colonnade building, which runs along the plaza, with its pool and fountain.

The church has faced periods of financial hardship, but Davis described the current situation as ``stable," with steady contributions since 1993 despite declining membership.

Davis said the church has ruled out selling land but is leaving open the possibility of leasing to a developer for construction of a building. Boston has little office space in the pipeline , and the demand for space is growing. A 550-car garage lies below the property.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist will maintain the mother church -- actually two churches, dating from just before and after the turn of the 20th century -- as well as its Publishing House building and library, named after church founder Mary Baker Eddy, as they are.

The plaza, with its sweeping water feature , will continue to be public space but may be enhanced.

``How many months out of the year is it usable?" asked Davis. ``There might be a better use in the winter as a skating pool."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.
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Old 10-17-2006, 12:24 PM   #2
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Before adding any buildings on the plaza, I'd prefer that the church demolish and replace the Midtown Hotel (assuming they still own it).

The Christian Science Plaza is a rarity -- a 1960s-modernist design that works well and that people enjoy. Tinker with it only with great care, please.
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Old 10-17-2006, 12:57 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Newman
Before adding any buildings on the plaza, I'd prefer that the church demolish and replace the Midtown Hotel (assuming they still own it).
I never knew the church owned that. If they still do, I agree with you 100%.
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Old 10-17-2006, 12:58 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Newman
The Christian Science Plaza is a rarity -- a 1960s-modernist design that works well and that people enjoy. Tinker with it only with great care, please.
Move it to Government Center?
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Old 10-17-2006, 01:19 PM   #5
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Yes, living across the street, I REALLY hope they tinker with great care. I love the openness of the space as it is, and I hope they don't get rid of most of it...
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Old 10-17-2006, 02:19 PM   #6
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They own the land underneath the colonnade hotel, and colonnade apartments, the midtown hotel, the two apartment towers on the south side of the Huntington ave/mass ave intersection, and Church park apartments on mass ave.

That's why the colonnade and church park are apartments and not condos - they don't own the land.
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Old 10-17-2006, 02:31 PM   #7
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I don't understand. In the first paragraph you say they own the land, and in the second paragraph you say they don't.
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Old 10-17-2006, 02:41 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Newman
I don't understand. In the first paragraph you say they own the land, and in the second paragraph you say they don't.
The Christian Scientists own the land under those developments, and they lease them out to a developer that administers them as apartments. The developer could not sell condos because they dont own the land.
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Old 10-17-2006, 03:20 PM   #9
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Christian Science and Midtown, etc?

Does anyone know if the church owns the land/building of the Midtown Hotel?

If the floor plates work out, I think the administration tower would make a great hotel. There's room to expand/bulk up the broadcasting 'bar' building on land behind it(and even build tall there as it backs up to the Sheraton and Hilton at the Pru).

If the church does own the midtown and any of the sites along Mass Ave towards Boylston, those should be sold off and developed as housing and/or space for Berkley.
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Old 10-17-2006, 03:58 PM   #10
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Quote:
The property is governed by a special institutional zoning plan that allows new structures of up to 75 feet tall, and in some cases up to 115 feet. But Barbara Burley, the church's senior manager of real estate planning and operations, expects the final proposals will likely be for bigger buildings.
Why was the height zoned so low for a location where the nearby Christian Science Tower rises 370 feet?
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Old 10-18-2006, 01:10 PM   #11
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Who owns the Midtown Hotel?

The public record shows First Church Christ as owner of 200-220 Huntington Ave. The Midtown Hotel's address is 220 Huntington Ave.

The building is assessed at around $6 million; the land at around $3 million. Truly, I think the land would be worth way more, of course. However, the owners behind the Midtown would probably have fits over any plans for higher buildings. They may hate the Midtown for its design and its clientele, but towers wouldn't go over well, either. They built the Colonnade rental towers, but I don't see how.

I'd love for the Midtown to become condos. Perfect location, with unobstructed views.
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Old 10-18-2006, 05:48 PM   #12
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This news isn't making me as excited as new development usually does. I agree with Ron, the CSC is one of the few 1960s urban renewal schemes that actually works, its got the right balance of open space and buildings (which are also well designed). That's why I'm not so thrilled about putting more stuff on the campus, it presents too good of an opportunity to mess it up. I guess if the architect of the campus did the additions, it could still turn out OK. The reflecting pool does sound like a pretty cool place for an ice skating rink. For a city with such cold winters, Boston has surprisingly few public skating rinks.

On the other hand, I completely agree with redeveloping parcels along Huntington and what not. That stretch could use some work. If they do redevelop the Midtown though, it would be nice if they could keep the hotel in new building, as it is consistently one of the cheapest and best options for when I go up to Boston .
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Old 10-19-2006, 11:40 AM   #13
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Restore Street Scape

It would be great if they restored the street scape along that stretch by building something akin to rowhouses (albeit likely taller than those in the area due to cost issues.) You could keep the plaza behind them - that would be an amenity for those homes. Unfortunately the plaza of trees would have to go, but that's largely unused space anyway. Building a mirroring project in place of the midtown hotel across the street would be cool too. Then you slow down the cars on Huntington and you have a neighborhood again.
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Old 10-19-2006, 12:23 PM   #14
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Re: Restore Street Scape

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoss
It would be great if they restored the street scape along that stretch by building something akin to rowhouses (albeit likely taller than those in the area due to cost issues.) You could keep the plaza behind them - that would be an amenity for those homes. Unfortunately the plaza of trees would have to go, but that's largely unused space anyway. Building a mirroring project in place of the midtown hotel across the street would be cool too. Then you slow down the cars on Huntington and you have a neighborhood again.
I was thinking the same thing. I agree that the Huntington Ave side of the property could most likely be developed without having a negative impact on the public spaces. In fact, I think it may have an opposite effect. If done right, it could help fix this especially bleak stretch of Huntington and help to better define the church's public space, as well.
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Old 10-19-2006, 12:33 PM   #15
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Two theatres were torn down in the 1960s to build the Christian Science Plaza:

Uptown Theatre, formerly St. James Theatre, formerly Chickering Hall. It was right next to Horticultural Hall. The Sunday School building now stands on this site.

Strand Theatre, built as Huntington Avenue Theatre, and renamed to Sack Capri in its final few years. The photos I've seen show it rather unremarkably tucked into a line of rowhouses. The Administration tower now stands on this site.

A related urban renewal project across Mass. Ave., the Church Park Apartments, lost us two other theatres, Loew's State (called Donnelly Memorial and then Back Bay Theatre in its final years), and the Fine Arts. Both were in the same huge building.

I wouldn't mind at all seeing a new theatre built somewhere around here, bringing back one of these old names.
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Old 10-22-2006, 11:30 PM   #16
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I think the Church also owns the undistinguished and forgettable one- and two-story buildings on the east side of Mass. Ave, between the Berklee Performance Center and the Mother Church. One of them is a McDonald's, of all the out-of-place things. These could surely be replaced by something bigger and better.
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Old 10-23-2006, 01:47 PM   #17
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You're correct, everything up to the corner of Belvidere is owned by the church.

I think they also have (through shell corporations or a trust?) have background authority or ownership over the apartments on St. Germain and Clearway Street, down to that awkward Belvidere/Dalton Street intersection by the Sheraton.
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Old 10-23-2006, 06:30 PM   #18
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Even worse

And, the church owns my soul, too.
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Old 10-23-2006, 06:39 PM   #19
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I'd tell you to see a doctor about it, but ...
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Old 10-23-2006, 09:25 PM   #20
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ba-zing

I'm a pharmacy major, many of my friends work in the pharmacy of the CVS ironically directly across the street.
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