The Reshaping of Boston’s Historic Bulfinch Triangle Neighborhood
Above: A rendering of Causeway Street upon completion of the 1.87-million-square-foot Hub on Causeway development, which is currently under construction.
Since the completion of the Big Dig and the removal of the elevated Central Artery and train tracks above the Bulfinch Triangle neighborhood in 2004, the area has been transformed by multiple opportunistic development projects into a modern, walkable, 24/7 neighborhood. From 2008, the year the Rose Kennedy Greenway was completed along the Artery’s former path, to 2018, 2,126 residential units, 232,000 square feet of office space and 309 hotel keys were added to the neighborhood. By 2022, a new, additional wave of development is set to further reshape Bulfinch Triangle, with 3,366 residential units, 2,082,000 square feet of office space and 1,143 hotel keys in the pipeline.
At NAIOP’s recent event, The New Shape of Boston’s Historic Neighborhood, industry leaders who have been instrumental towards Bulfinch Triangle’s transformation gathered to participate in an insightful discussion on the neighborhood’s past, present and future. Opening remarks were given by Phil Casey, Principal at CBT Architects, who gave a brief historical overview of Bulfinch Triangle and its’ evolution into a dynamic 24/7 neighborhood, as well as an update on recently completed and upcoming development projects. Dan Cence, Senior Vice President at Solomon McCown, then moderated a panel discussion comprised of Principals from development firms that are reshaping Bulfinch Triangle, including Boston Properties Senior Vice President Michael Cantalupa, Related Beal President Kimberly Sherman Stamler and The HYM Investment Group (HYM) Managing Director Tom O’Brien.
Casey kicked off the speaking program with a recollection of when Bulfinch Triangle was primarily a “sports neighborhood” in the shadow of the former elevated Central Artery highway and MBTA Green and Orange Line train tracks, with nothing more than pizza shops, bars and the Boston Garden, home of the Bruins hockey and Celtics basketball teams. Following the construction of the Central Artery in the 1950s, for which multiple buildings were demolished and a walkable streetscape was eliminated, the neighborhood was cut off from the rest of Boston, making the streetscape virtually devoid of activity on days without games.
Above: The Central Artery running through the Bulfinch Triangle neighborhood, leaving nothing more than parking lots underneath.
Early developers saw potential in Bulfinch Triangle given the presence of the North Station multimodal public transit hub, existing architecture’s genuine historic character and the neighborhood’s proximity to major thoroughfares including Interstate 93 and Storrow Drive. Bulfinch Triangle has always sat at the northern gateway to the City of Boston at the critical intersection of some of Boston’s most popular neighborhoods, including the Financial District, the North End, Beacon Hill and East Cambridge.
The construction of the Tip O’Neil Federal Building on Causeway Street in the 1980s brought 2,000 employees to Bulfinch Triangle and a renewed interest in development. In 2004, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held at TD Garden, putting the neighborhood on a national stage and kicking off revitalization of the neighborhood’s streetscape. The subsequent demolition of the elevated Central Artery and construction of the Greenway in its’ place brought new open space to neighborhood, kicking off its’ transformation. With billions of dollars of recent transit investment from the Big Dig, including an all-new underground North Station, Bulfinch Triangle has become increasingly walkable, and one of Boston’s most connected neighborhoods.
Above: The Rose Kennedy Greenway in the North End, along the path of the former Central Artery.
While many people gripe at the Big Dig, particularly given its’ staggering cost of $24.3 billion, O'Brien sees the project as “worth every penny” and key towards laying Bulfinch Triangle’s groundwork for future development. The Big Dig was Bulfinch Triangle’s critical game changer, creating multiple development sites formerly occupied by the elevated highway and putting a renewed emphasis upon pedestrian experience and cycling. O’Brien credits Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis and Secretary of Transportation Fred Salvucci, both of whom pushed for the Big Dig in the late 1980s, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who subsequently approved the project, as instrumental towards the revitalization of Bulfinch Triangle and the downtown area at large.
In 1993, recalled O’Brien, the economy was in a recession, and Bill McCall, Founder and President of McCall & Almy, proclaimed at a NAIOP event that downtown was dead, stating that it would take at least 20, if not 30, years to reinvigorate the area. Today, 25 years later, O’Brien excitedly proclaimed that “our downtown hasn't just come back, it's a place to live”, to the point where thousands of residential units are being constructed and Amazon is considering establishing its’ second headquarters in the area.
Above: The Bulfinch Triangle streetscape in 1990.
While O’Brien sees the disappearance of watering holes such as The Penalty Box, a notorious Bulfinch Triangle bar from the neighborhood’s darker days, as no reason for celebration, he proudly proclaimed that he never thought Bulfinch Triangle would be developed in his lifetime, much less that people would want to live, work or play there. In recent years, multiple new coffee shops, restaurants and bars have opened in Bulfinch Triangle, bringing new, more inviting entertainment options to the neighborhood and turning the neighborhood from simply a place to watch sports games into a constant, multifaceted destination.
O’Brien called Bulfinch Triangle’s hulking concrete Government Center Garage, which HYM is replacing with the 2.9-million-square-foot Bulfinch Crossing development, easily Boston's ugliest building and essentially detrimental to the neighborhood’s street experience given the dark shadow it casts. In 1993, when working at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), O’Brien identified the garage as a property that needed to be redeveloped. Now, the first phase of Bulfinch Crossing, a 45-story, 486-unit residential tower, is now under construction and will be delivered in 2020. O’Brien hopes to closely follow with a 43-story, 1-million-square-foot office tower for which HYM is actively seeking tenants.
Above: An aerial view of the Bulfinch Crossing development.
O’Brien credits Boston Properties’ 1.87-million-square-foot The Hub on Causeway development as providing Boston with a significant new entryway worth of the world-class city that Boston is. The Hub on Causeway is prominently visible from Interstate 93 approaching Boston from the north. Once the project is complete, explained O’Brien, the neighborhood will be in “even better shape” between the development’s new residential, retail, hotel and office space, and the new entrance to TD Garden and North Station from Causeway Street that will be created as part of The Hub on Causeway. Likewise, O’Brien proclaimed that the upcoming reconstruction of Causeway Street into a more intimate, pedestrian-friendly street, which will also include a new cycle track for bicycle riders, will go a long way towards further connecting the neighborhood to its’ surroundings.
Above: A rendering of the upcoming cycle track in front of The Hub on Causeway.
Looking out 10 years, Cantalupa sees Bulfinch Triangle as becoming an “extraordinarily vibrant, lively and busy” neighborhood, with constant energy and multiple new and renewed buildings that will be fully occupied. Bulfinch Triangle’s rapid development has been well received by both office tenants seeking to be close to public transit, as opposed to running private shuttles to and from North Station, and professionals seeking to live close to jobs in Downtown Boston and entertainment options such as the newly opened City Winery in Trinity Financial’s recently completed One Canal apartment building. Accordingly, when planning The Hub on Causeway, Cantalupa and the Boston Properties team saw the opportunity to construct an attractive mix of uses.
The results of their efforts is an attractive physical product that, with an inviting layout including open floor plates, high ceilings, natural lighting and unique design elements such as large, warehouse-type windows, has already proven attractive to tenants including Rapid7, Star Market, ArcLight Cinema and an entertainment venue by Big Night Entertainment Group and Live Nation New England. A proposal by the City of Somerville would place Amazon’s headquarters within The Hub on Causeway’s approved office tower. In the coming years, Cence sees Bulfinch Triangle potentially becoming attractive to more traditional tenants such as finance and law firms, in addition to urban pioneers such as technology companies who are already moving there.
Above: A rendering of Rapid7’s new office at The Hub on Causeway.
In the post Big Dig era, when Bulfinch Triangle was just beginning to gain a footing, it took a fair amount of confidence to develop in the neighborhood. However, Bulfinch Triangle’s unbeatable location convinced Stamler the area was fit for development. Stamler explained that it is rare for a central neighborhood to have so much new development opportunity, along with quality existing infrastructure such as North Station.
Stamler spoke to Bulfinch Triangle’s impressive waterfront access and proximity to the newly created Greenway, as well as parks in the NorthPoint and Charlestown neighborhoods, as key deciding factors towards developing in the neighborhood. Furthermore, explained Stamler, with so much recent progress, the neighborhood has a great combination of everything a resident would need or want. Related Beal recently completed two development projects in Bulfinch Triangle. These include Lovejoy Wharf, a waterfront two-building mixed-use development featuring office space, a restaurant and condominium residences, and The Beverly, a mixed-use building featuring a hotel, retail and Boston’s first 100% affordable and workforce housing development in over 25 years.
Above: Related Beal’s The Beverly development.
When planning Lovejoy Wharf, Related Beal sought to re-engage the City with the water, creating a new boardwalk connecting the longstanding Harborwalk gap between the North End and Bulfinch Triangle. With the boardwalk, Related Beal made Bulfinch Triangle even more accessible and created a new link to Boston Harbor, paving the way for a Bulfinch Triangle-Seaport District ferry that will start service this Summer and put the neighborhood increasingly on the map. Lovejoy Wharf has already attracted Converse, who relocated to the area from the suburbs. This Summer, the Alcove restaurant will open along the Harborwalk, bringing even more life to the area and the newly created Bulfinch Triangle waterfront.
Above: Related Beal’s recently completed Lovejoy Wharf development along Boston Harbor.
In the coming years, with driving cars falling out of fashion and people shifting towards alternative modes such as ridesharing, walking and public transit, there will likely be even more development opportunity in Bulfinch Triangle as parking becomes less of a necessity. Stamler noted that “the world is trending towards less vehicles”, which, along with upcoming transit investments such as the Bulfinch Triangle-Seaport District ferry, prompted Related Beal to offer Lovejoy Wharf residents door-to door valet parking, instead of constructing parking on site.
Cantalupa noted that while The Hub on Causeway has a large underground parking garage, utilization by consumers will likely go down in the coming years. Instead, Cantalupa anticipates that autonomous vehicles laying over will likely occupy space in existing parking garages. In the coming years, many area parking garages will likely be either demolished and replaced with new towers, or expanded with new uses such as housing. Equity Residential plans to break ground on the Garden Garage tower this Spring, which will replace the existing eponymous parking garage with 469 apartments. Likewise, Fortis Property Group recently proposed to add 195 new condominium residences atop Bulfinch Triangle’s Dock Square Garage, while adding no new parking.
Boston’s transportation system will be instrumental towards Bulfinch Triangle’s continued rise. Cantalupa rates Boston transit as a top five system nationwide, and is optimistic that the MBTA will only continue to improve after working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) on both The Hub on Causeway and the Back Bay Station Redevelopment in the Back Bay. In the coming years, Cantalupa anticipates the use of existing, underutilized rail lines to further connect Bulfinch Triangle to other key neighborhoods, for instance a “brain train” between Bulfinch Triangle and Kendall Square along the existing Grand Junction Railroad. With a level of real estate and infrastructure investment poised to only increase, and the attention of top tier tenants such as Amazon, Bulfinch Triangle will be instrumental in the coming years towards downtown’s continued transformation into an activated, mixed-use district.