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Boston’s Parks Get Greener with High-Tech Solar-Powered Benches

18 Jul 2014, 8:12 pm

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

Since last year Boston was named the Number 1 Digital City in the country for its best practices in communication technology and public-sector information, it only made sense for the Hub to continue investing in innovation and energy efficiency and become more connected with its residents.

Soofa smart bench designers: Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter and Nan Zhao

Soofa smart bench designers: Jutta Friedrichs, Sandra Richter and Nan Zhao

Boston’s most recent green initiative is a public-private partnership between the Streetscape Lab of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the MIT Media Lab spin-off Changing Environments, a Verizon Innovation Program partner that uses Verizon’s 4G LTE network to connect wirelessly to the internet. According to city officials, several parks and public space in and around Boston will get new benches—not the regular wood benches, but “smart urban furniture” with built-in solar panels and charging points for smartphones.

Dubbed “Soofas,” the solar-powered benches were created by three women—marketing specialist Sandra Richter, electrical engineer Nan Zhao, and designer Jutta Friedrichs—all of whom come from Germany, where solar energy is highly popular. First unveiled at the White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., last month, the smart benches will be installed at Boston Common (the oldest park in the country), at Titus Sparrow Park in the city’s South End section, and along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. According to Mashable, six high-tech benches have already been installed in Boston since June 25 and four more are scheduled to be added in the following weeks. Changing Environments has already built around 100 smart benches and plans to create more if they prove to be successful for the city.

Soofa smart bench designer Nan Zhao

Soofa smart bench designer Nan Zhao

Thanks to the encased solar panels and computer, the high-tech benches will provide Bostonians enough solar energy to charge their smartphones and other electronic devices in parks, at playgrounds and even around sports fields. These charging stations will also collect and share location-based information such as air quality and noise level data.

Envisioned as magnets that invite people to enjoy outdoors while reading the news or catching up on an email without fear of running out of power, the “Soofas” are expected to reactivate the city and create a new shared social experience. To make this green initiative even more interactive, the three designers  of Changing Environments have invited Bostonians to go online and recommend a location for a solar-powered bench.

“Soofa is the first step into Smart Urban Furniture. The possibilities to update the city for the mobile generation are endless and long overdue,” said Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of the young startup.

Images via Soofa

Boston Bruins Sign Lease Agreement for New Practice Facility at Boston landing

14 Jul 2014, 3:14 am

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

After having spent nearly three decades at the outdated Ristuccia Memorial Arena, the Boston Bruins will move closer to their fans into a new practice facility in the Allston/Brighton neighborhood.

Boston Landing

Boston Landing

The NFL team recently signed a letter of intent for a long-term lease at the massive Boston Landing campus that New Balance is building on a 14-acre site along Guest Street. Earlier in May Commercial Property Executive reported that NB Development Group—New Balance’s real estate investment and development arm—selected HYM Investment Group, LLC to co-develop the $500 million mixed-use project that will include a 250,000-square-foot world headquarters building for the sports footwear manufacturer, as well as 650,000 square feet of Class A office space, 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a new commuter station, a boutique hotel, and a large sports complex spanning 325,000 square feet at 77 Guest Street.

“The vision that New Balance has for the Boston Landing project is exactly what we were looking for, and we are confident that through this partnership, we will build a facility that our entire organization will be proud of,” said Boston Bruins President Cam Neely in a press statement.

The new sports complex will be designed by Elkus Manfredi, the same architecture firm that created the conceptual plans for New Balance, the anchor tenant at Boston Landing. Winchester-based John Moriarty & Associates will handle the construction which is scheduled to begin next spring with a completion date tentatively set for fall 2016. In addition to the hockey rink, the Bruins’ new practice center will include around 25,000 square feet of locker room, as well as administrative offices.

According to the Boston Business Journal, the deal was brokered by Transwestern/RBJ on behalf of New Balance, while Dartmouth Co. represented the Boston Bruins.


Rendering of Boston Landing via Elkus Manfredi Architects

“Voke Lofts” Adaptive Reuse Project Brings 84 Mixed-Income Units to Worcester

7 Jul 2014, 7:16 pm

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

Voke Lofts - Worcester MA

Voke Lofts – Worcester MA

An official ceremony held recently in Worcester marked the completion of the Voke Lofts, a new adaptive reuse project led by WinnDevelopment, a division of WinnCompanies.

Rising on the site of the former city’s Vocational Technical School that was closed in 2006, Voke Lofts is the sole residential component of the City of Worcester’s Gateway Park Master Plan—a partnership between the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC) and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to redevelop 55 acres of brownfield located downtown. As previously reported by Multi-Housing News Online, work on the $33 million mixed-income residential project started in spring 2013, several months after WinnDevelopment entered an agreement with WBDC to purchase the vacant school site at 34 Grove Street for $1.7 million.

The completion of Voke Lofts marks Winn’s 18th adaptive reuse project in Worcester. “The school is an important part of Worcester’s past and we’re honored to preserve the character of the building in its latest incarnation, which brings much needed, quality housing to the city,” said Gilbert Winn, managing principal of WinnCompanies, during the grand opening event .

Worcester Vocational Technical School (pre-development)

Worcester Vocational Technical School (pre-development)

The 116,306-square-foot apartment building that replaced the former vocational school (pictured left) was designed by Chelsea-based The Architectural Team (TAT) and A.T. Leonard & Associates Landscape Architecture, with Dellbrook Construction of Quincy serving as the project’s general contractor. Voke Lofts consists of a combination of 50 one-bedroom units, 31 two-bedroom units and 3 three-bedroom units. Half of the rental apartments were set aside for individuals and families with incomes between 30 and 60 percent of the area’s median income, while the other half will be market rate. According to information on Dellbrook Construction’s website, 70 percent of the units at Voke Lofts are already leased and rent prices are determined depending on the unit. For example, a one-bedroom apartment at market rate is leased at roughly $1,200 per month, while a unit with a den would fetch $1,600. All loft-style apartments have light industrial look elements such as exposed brick and ceiling beams and piping.

The redesigned multifamily building incorporates an on-site management office, a residents’ lounge with a kitchen, a computer learning center, a play area for children, as well as a fitness center and bike storage space. The LEED certifiable residential building also includes an art gallery where students enrolled at the current Worcester Technical High School located at 1 Skyline Drive can exhibit their work, and on-site classroom space where residents will have access to classes offered by Becker College.

Images courtesy of A.T. Leonard & Associates Landscape Architecture

Developer Unveils $1 Billion, Two-Tower Redevelopment Project for Boston Harbor Garage

28 Jun 2014, 2:09 pm

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

Harbor Garage Project

Harbor Garage Project

Don Chiofaro, a real estate developer whose firm The Chiofaro Company serves the New England area, is moving forward with plans to redevelop one of the largest, privately held parking facilities in Boston.

The Boston Harbor Garage sitting on a 1.3-acre parcel at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Milk Street, close to the New England Aquarium, is an eight-story concrete parking garage that has was acquired by The Chiofaro Company in 2007 for $153 million, according to information from PropertyShark. After several redesign attempts that got rejected during the Menino administration, the developer has come up with a final project that will transform the plain-looking, box-shaped building into a residential and office complex totaling 1.3 billion square feet.

Ideally located at 70 East India Row along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, the Boston Harbor Garage has 401,310 square feet of space that is used strictly for parking. Developer Don Chiofaro’s $1 billion proposal tentatively dubbed Harbor Garage Project calls for a 600-foot residential tower with 120 condos and a 300-room hotel, and a 500-foot office tower encompassing 700,000 square feet of space. As reported by the Boston Business Journal, Harbor Garage will also include 35,000 square feet of retail

Harbor Garage Project  - Harbor Square

Harbor Garage Project – Harbor Square

space on the first three floors of each tower, more than 27,000 square feet of open space, as well as a 70-foot, open space called Harbor Square featuring a retractable roof and lush landscaping, allowing the square to be used for open air festivals in summer and as an ice skating rink in winter. As for the existing 1,400-car garage, the developer plans to raze it and reconstruct it below grade. However, as the garage is estimated to cost around $180 million to sink, the developer needs to achieve a certain density in order to make the project financially viable.

Designed by New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the Harbor Garage Project falls under Chapter 91—the Massachusetts state law that governs any development projects of the waterfront—and it will first need to receive approval for zoning changes from the state and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) since it is taller than the accepted 400-foot height restrictions. Additionally, 50 percent of the project’s footprint will have to be designated as “public space,” Boston Herald reports.

If the project gets the green light for construction from the state and BRA, it will take around three years to complete.

Rendering courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

Boston Residential Development Plans 44-Unit Luxury Building Across from the Greenway

21 Jun 2014, 4:11 am

By Veronica Grecu, Associate Editor

The small parking lot on India Street facing the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in Downtown Boston could be replaced by a 12-story residential structure by Boston Residential Development, which recently filed a Project Notification Form with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

55 India Street - project rendering

55 India Street – project rendering

Surrounded by high-rise commercial and residential buildings and structured parking garages, the 7,100-square-foot site at 55 India Street has been a paved parking lot since the 1950s and consists of three small parcels. As described in the Project Notification Form, the proposed project would add much-needed housing in this part of the downtown area while filling a gap along the Greenway and enhancing the pedestrian experience. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was officially opened in 2008 as a 15-acre linear urban park built on land created after the Big Dig—a megaproject that rerouted the elevated John F. Fitzgerald Expressway that ran through the heart of the city into a 3.5-mile tunnel.

55 India Street will encompass 67,000 square feet of mixed-use space. Designed by Hacin + Associates, the glass and brick building will include 44 luxury condominiums offered in a combination of one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranging in size from 600 to 1,750 square feet, and around 4,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space on the ground floor and mezzanine level.

Because the site is located less than a mile from several MBTA stations (for example the MBTA Aquarium and State Street Stations which provide access to both the Orange Line and the Blue Line are located within a quarter-mile of 55 India Street), the project will not include a parking garage of its own; instead, the developer plans to secure rental parking in the nearby garages. However, the conceptual plans include bicycle storage within the building, but the space will be limited to one per residential unit.

If approved by the BRA, the developer could begin construction at 55 India Street in the first quarter of 2015 and deliver the residences in approximately 16 months.

Rendering courtesy of Boston Residential Development via BRA

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