New Owner's Plan for Restoring the Boston Flower Exchange Is Blooming
For owner Abbey Group, undertaking a redevelopment project opens the door for creativity. The new owner recently acquired a large, 1.6 million SF building at 540 Albany Street. The site, which was once used as a flower exchange operation, will be repurposed as a mixed-use site with office and laboratory space. Instead of tearing down the existing structure, Abbey Group intends to simply update the building to meet modern needs. This follows the recent trend across Boston to forego new construction in favor of renovating and restore historic commercial and residential spaces. Plans for the revitalized Flower Exchange are still unfolding, but construction is supposed to begin in fall 2018, and the first phase of the project is expected to be finished by late 2019 or early 2020.
The Boston Flower Exchange, which initially used the space, is still in operation. The facility began in 1909, and was designed to be a marketplace where local growers could rent cooperatively to sell their products in an environment that met their specific needs. The Exchange was historically a popular destination, particularly for Boston's wealthy crowd. Over the years, the Exchange shifted focus. It went from being a wholesale market that welcomed the public to an exchange that is only open to people in the industry. For the Abbey Group, the revitalization of the Exchange is a perfect opportunity to bring Boston's residents back to the area.
Over the next few years, the developer will continue unrolling and implementing its building plans. At present, the project is expected to cost about $1 billion. Its redevelopment will include making quite a bit of room for companies in the life science and technology sectors. Smaller retailers and restaurants will also be encouraged to set up shop in the complex, which will have around 1.5 million SF of business and commercial space. In Boston's emerging recognition of small businesses and start-ups, the facility will also have incubator space. Business spaces will expand across the complex's four buildings. Outside, the complex will be surrounded by just over one acre of open space. The open space will include a plaza, garden, and a lawn.
Although the Abbey Group's project follows the bigger trend in Boston of repurposing outdated properties, it is markedly different in other ways. Unlike many large-scale projects in the area, the Albany Street project will not contain residential living space. The owner explains that, although they considered adding residences to the project's blueprint, those plans were scratched to focus solely on commerce. Abbey Group notes that the site's proximity to Boston Medical Center, Boston University Medical School, and South End, which has been the center of start-up growth, it makes the most sense to follow a commercial theme. The owner speculates that when finished, the project could create up to 7,000 jobs on its site. In addition to providing office and commercial space, the project will include 42,500 SF of space for retailers. It will also have 1,145 parking spaces underground. In an age where parking space availability is falling across Boston as price and competition for them increases, having a complex that includes private parking for tenants is significant.
As the project gets underway, the owner must continue to comply with state and city ordinances. It recently submitted plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency for the retail space and underground parking spaces. The project might hit a road block in seeking a height variance, which has caused trouble for developers in other parts of the city. To make the project as planned, Abbey Group would need to get approval to extend the building's height to 318 feet. In the neighborhood, the current maximum height permitted is 200 feet. Around Boston, concerned citizens and historic groups have cited issues with height increases. They claim that such alterations are changing Boston's skyline into a more vertical design. They are also citing conflict with the city's laws governing shadows. These regulations state that a building cannot block natural sunlight from hitting surrounding public areas at certain times of the day. Specifically, that means one hour after dawn and the last hour before dusk.
Only time will tell what happens with the project, but things look promising for the developer so far.