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Dwarfing The Green Monster, Fenway Corners Plan Draws Cheers While Irking Some Fans

The smell of Fenway Franks and the echoes of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline will always be part of the charm of Fenway Park, but the area around the stadium is set to get a major makeover that will forever change how people view the area, something that hasn’t sat well with some fans.

A $1.6B development that was approved last month will bring 1.3M SF of lab, office and housing to the streets facing the park, as well as overdue updates to the Fenway neighborhood's transportation corridors. The project would bring thousands of new jobs and residents to the area, but also a striking change to the aesthetics around the Red Sox's historic stadium.

Although the project has received praise from members of the community, city officials and baseball fans alike, there has also been pushback on changes to the park that some fear could take away from its unique characteristics and historical relevance.

“It's important to us that we identify and preserve the characteristics that make the ballpark experience,” said Alison Frazee, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “That's what you see as you approach the park. Your first glimpses of the park, the sights, the smells, the sounds and all the activity that goes around the park on game days.”

The oldest active Major League Baseball stadium in the country, Fenway Park attracts on average nearly 33,000 baseball fans per game, according to ESPN. Through the years, the 111-year-old ballpark has undergone extensive renovations and upkeep, but now the area around it is set to receive its own face-lift.

The area around Fenway Park is set to undergo over 1M SF of redevelopment over the course of the next decade.

On July 13, the Boston Planning & Development Agency approved WS' 1.3M SF Fenway Corners project, an eight-building, mixed-use development that will feature nearly 730K SF of lab, 500K SF of office and 266 residential units along with ground-floor retail and transit improvements. The project surrounds Fenway Park on two sides, with towers rising above the Green Monster in left field as well as across Jersey Street from the first-base line.

The developer is working with Fenway Sports Group, the owner of the Red Sox (as well as Liverpool Football Club and the Pittsburgh Penguins), and the D’Angelo family, which has operated retail and souvenir shops near the park for the past 80 years.

The redevelopment efforts on and around Fenway Park began more than two decades ago when FSG bought the Red Sox and the park in 2002. Since then, FSG made massive upgrades to the park through a two-decades-long plan dubbed Fenway 2.0.

“We have the right partners in place and a thoughtful, phased approach to reimagine the area surrounding the ballpark in what we have termed Fenway 3.0,” Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “Through this redevelopment, we hope to create new amenities that complement the year-round activities of Fenway Park and create a more pedestrian-friendly urban environment for our neighbors and fans.”

Though the area surrounding the park is heavily trafficked during game days, outside of the baseball season, it’s a different story. The parcels WS plans to redevelop are parking lots, garages and loading zones for warehouses that have long been seen as eyesores, as well as storefronts that don't open outside of gameday hours, WS officials said at a recent meeting.

“Some of what's there now is either a parking lot or the D’Angelos' storage and back office,” said Richard Giordano, director of policy and community planning at Fenway Community Development Corp. “I would say that much of the area that they're going to build on is not exactly pleasant or attractive.”

Fenway Corners isn't the only thing that is slated to transform the area surrounding the park. The Boston Planning & Development Agency launched its Fenway Transportation Action Plan this month to address the growing transportation concerns that have come from past and future development.

The BPDA plans to update pedestrian walkways, bike and bus lanes and other transit networks in the Fenway-Kenmore area. Working alongside the Boston Transportation Department, the BDPA will first conduct a traffic study and numerous community listening sessions before drawing up a more concrete plan.

“The goals of the Action Plan will be to respond to the extensive growth the area has experienced in the last several years, and expand walking, biking, and transit networks in the neighborhood that are safe, reliable, and connected; ensure Fenway remains a welcoming urban neighborhood for all people; and ensure it is resilient to climate change,” a BPDA spokesperson told Bisnow in a statement.

Due to the FTAP, WS deferred roughly 400K SF of its project to make way for the transportation plan. The developer has put a significant emphasis on public space and roadways around the park, with plans to close off Jersey Street to vehicular traffic and open up Richard B. Ross Way for two-way traffic.

“There is a relentless focus on the public realm,” Yanni Tsipis, who leads the Fenway Corners project for WS, said at a July 13 BPDA meeting. “There is perhaps no other corner of the city that sees more foot traffic in the city than the streets and ways and lanes of Fenway Park.”

Frazee said Fenway Corners is a great example of bringing on new development and keeping the traditions and history of the area alive.

A rendering of the project that received backlash because of one development set behind the park's beloved Green Monster, a 37-foot-tall wall in left field.

“A lot of [WS’] ideas, we felt like really enhanced the area around Fenway Park, rather than taking away from it,” Frazee said. “They were being thoughtful about the needs of the community, as well as visitors to the park on game days and other events.”

The developer has made numerous changes to the project over the course of the approval process, including cutting 50K SF of commercial space and bumping up the number of housing by 50 units, as well as increasing affordable housing from 13% to 20%. The developer also added a 10K SF daycare center after residents complained about a lack of childcare options in the neighborhood.

Although the project has received the backing of community groups like the Fenway Community Development Corp., the Fenway Community Center and the Boston Preservation Alliance, some residents and online commenters have voiced concerns about one specific rendering that shows a tall building behind the park’s famed Green Monster, a 37-foot-tall left field wall in the park.

The building in question is a seven-story development on Lansdowne Street called Lansdowne Block in BPDA filings. Some have expressed concerns that the building would obscure the views of the Citgo sign, another historic landmark in the neighborhood, which fans can see beyond the wall.

“You can do a lot more than they can currently provide, but to put something that big and that new and that hard to miss, it’s going to forever change the imagery and landscape of Fenway Park,” NBC broadcaster Brodie Brazil said in a YouTube video about the project.

The Red Sox Team Store at 19 Jersey St., formerly Yawkey Way.

Although this is just one concern that fans and residents have about this particular project, Frazee said that she wants the city to be mindful of the impacts of the neighborhood’s development pipeline as a whole on the character of the city’s most precious landmark.

“This project is not moving forward in isolation,” Frazee said. “There are a number of other projects happening at the same time. And we need to be looking at them all collectively and their impact on the neighborhood and neighborhood character and livability. I hope the city will do that.”

The Fenway neighborhood at large has over 10M SF in the development pipeline, according to the BPDA. Besides Fenway Corners, there are IQHQ’s 1M SF Fenway Center air rights project and Skanska’s 1.7M SF Simmons University mixed-use project. These developments will bring even more foot traffic to the area.

“I think right now the big thing that's lacking is a coordinated plan to accommodate for the housing needs that these projects will produce,” Giordano said. “There could be 10,000 or 15,000 new people coming into an area that's probably less than a mile square.”

The BPDA said that it will be taking into account the housing that comes from the Fenway Corners project, as well as other projects that are being developed or that have filed plans with the BPDA.

Just blocks from Fenway Park, community members have voiced concerns surrounding IQHQ’s proposed lab redevelopment of Kenmore Square’s Hotel Buckminster, the oldest hotel in the neighborhood built in 1897, the Boston Globe reported.

The developer filed plans in January to redevelop the 125-year-old hotel into a 461K SF lab building. Advocates have been trying to designate the hotel’s exterior as a city landmark, which would require IQHQ to preserve the outside of the building, the Globe reported.

“We've lost almost all of the historic fabric and the really unique spaces and experiences in Kenmore Square,” Frazee said.