Revitalizing the Financial District
by donna garlough
For all its riches, Boston has long fallen short in one regard: the lack of a recreational scene in what could—and should—be one of its most vibrant corners, the Financial District. For years, the area between Downtown Crossing and the waterfront would grow eerily silent after 6 pm on weekdays, trafficked only by wayward tourists on the weekends. At last, though, city planners and private developers are paving the way for change, quite literally: Broad Street is nearing the end of a makeover thanks to the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Crossroads Initiative, which is closely tied to the mayor’s efforts to revitalize neighborhoods.
A “confluence of events” has precipitated the change, says Jonathan Greeley, BRA’s senior planner and project manager for the Crossroads Initiative. “You’ve got the Central Artery that’s come down, and now the mayor’s made a big commitment to improving what’s on the street level,” he explains. “We’re encouraging amenities that serve more than just daytime business needs.”
Of course to become a true neighborhood, the Financial District needs to be an attractive place for locals to actually live. And in that regard, the country’s recent economic woes have actually presented the city with a tremendous opportunity. A spate of commercial vacancies—some the result of corporate cost-cutting, others due to businesses relocating to affordable and spacious Seaport digs—has drawn the interest of residential developers.
“Class C commercial office buildings were the hardest hit,” says Northeast Real Estate Group’s Andrew Haddad of the drop in commercial occupancies in small downtown buildings. He and partner Evan Papanastasiou jumped at the chance to oversee the renovations and marketing for an office building at Broad and Batterymarch Streets as it was converted into a boutique collection of two-bedroom, two-bath rentals: FiDi Luxury Lofts. Following a gut renovation of five floors, the apartments now feature granite kitchens, high ceilings, and layouts geared toward young professionals “who want to live where they work,” says Papanastasiou, as well as experience the vibe of an emerging neighborhood that’s still steeped in a sense of history. The nearby Ames hotel, for instance, was Boston’s first skyscraper.
As lofts go, the FiDi units are more polished than industrial, featuring oversize arched windows. Unit B on each floor boasts showstopping views of Liberty and Post Office Squares. “Last week we saw a horse-drawn buggy coming down the street,” says Papanastasiou. “Where else can you get that?”
The FiDi Luxury Lofts’ relatively diminutive size (just 15 units) is a sharp contrast to nearby developments like The Lofts at Atlantic Wharf, the turn-of-the-century Peabody & Stearns Atlantic Building that now contains 86 high-end residences; and the Broadluxe Lofts, a posh 44-unit condo and apartment development, featuring lofts with private outdoor spaces. “We want people to feel like they’re coming home,” explains Papanastasiou. “It’s in the middle of everything, but it’s private.”
Of course, there’s more to a home than what’s between the brick walls. Part of what’s making the scene possible is activity in the restaurant scene. The Atlantic Building now houses the popular restaurants Trade (from Rialto chef/owner Jody Adams) and a Smith & Wollensky steakhouse. The blocks surrounding FiDi Luxury Lofts are undergoing changes, too—an upscale pub is slated to open on the opposite corner in early 2013, and a yet-to-be-determined restaurant will also occupy the loft building’s own first floor.
“It’s all coming together,” says Haddad of the formerly disparate Financial District and Waterfront neighborhoods. “The key is encouraging local businesses to keep longer hours and weekend hours, and getting people to experience the neighborhood that this is becoming. This new group of residents are going to be a part of that.”
photography by Andy ryan