The former Boston Globe site on Morrissey Boulevard will be transformed into an “urban innovation campus,” developers Nordblom Company announced on Tuesday. The building’s towering pressroom will be converted to open, central-gathering atrium and a modern, more glass-fronted facade will look over the Morrissey Boulevard parkway, the company said.
“The BEAT” (The Boston Exchange for Accelerated Technology) will be a life science, technology, and advanced manufacturing facility, a Nordblom spokesman said, its name an homage to the beat reporters who worked in the newsroom headquarters for more than 60 years before the paper moved downtown in 2017, a nod to the nearby Red Line as a neighborhood artery, and a gesture at the lively and open space they hope to cultivate at the fortress-like site.
Along with office space, the company plans to include amenities like a fitness center and food hall with a brew pub.
“Our vision has always been a post-industrial renovation, a recycling of the building," Todd Fremont-Smith, senior vice president and director of mixed-use projects for Nordblom, said at a Tuesday briefing with the Reporter. “Assembly Row is not going to work here.” The conversion comes with a $200 million price tag and an ideal building completion date of Fall 2019, he said.
Burlington-based development company Nordblom purchased the 16-acre parcel for $81 million in late December in partnership with the Boston real estate private equity firm Alcion Ventures.
“Clearly we paid a lot of money for the property,” said Ogden Hunnewell, Nordblom executive vice president and partner, noting that the site is unique in its nearly 700,000 square feet of building, the potential for a quick turnaround because they don’t need to tear it down and start from scratch, and a cost advantage that will lead to lower rents. On top of that, Hunnewell said, “we think it’s going be a really cool space. You’re not going to go out and build a 20-foot high space for people, but we have it, and people will enjoy it.”
With its longtime architectural and contracting partners Stantec and Moriarty, Nordblom has been chasing this project for the past three years, watching two prior bids fall through, Hunnewell said. “We’ve had this plan, and it wasn’t as sexy as the other plans, but it was more realistic, and it was viable,” he said, “so we’ve been working with the architect and the contractor for all that time, and we became a little bit of a shrill voice because we were staying with the program and the idea and so here we are.”
The building was constructed in the mid-1950s, and expanded several times over the next 50 years. Its basic structure and layout are in good shape, with a deep foundation rooted into the bedrock and an assortment of rooms with 10- to 25-foot ceilings, all of which lays the groundwork for exterior improvements within the existing footprint and an interior renovation.
“We’re going to take out every non-load-bearing wall and partition, and then we’re going to see what’s left,” Fremont-Smith said. “They say demo frees the mind. We want to just clear it out and go in with our architects.”
The company expects to be left with a number of large zones fit for a variety of tenants —between 15 and 30 — ranging from office space to high-ceilinged tech maker space suitable for 3-D printing, robotics, even self-driving cars.
Access to the building will be moved to the lefty side of the current setup. What the company calls a striking glass front will turn the former press room, with its high ceilings and industrial bones, into a new front entrance and expansive atrium. The Globe’s iconic glass arched entryway will in turn become a flat array of tiered windows, which will be mirrored on the other side of the new atrium entryway.
The atrium will stretch from the front to the rear of the building, with seating, about 10,000 square feet of open workspaces, access to the fitness center and brew pub, and a food hall forming an internal main street. It would be open to the public during work hours, maybe including one of the Globe’s classic green delivery trucks as an accent, the company said.
“Everything we’re doing is about place-making and HR, because all these companies are trying to attract the same pool of people,” Fremont-Smith said. That pool? Millennials, many of whom live in South Boston or the Seaport, taking ride shares or the T into work, “and when they get to work they want it to be cool and hip, not your father’s Oldsmobile office space.”
Demand for such spaces is largely being met by the suburbs, Fremont-Smith said, adding, “There’s just nowhere for anyone to go. So we’re hoping that a combination of our scale, being able to provide continuous blocks of over 100,00 feet, and timing, bringing the core shell back online in Fall of 2019, that we’re well positioned to kind of take some of the pressure off.”
Open space will be a feature on top of the building as well as alongside it. A third floor roof deck could be reached by a stairwell at the rear of the atrium, near a currently licensed helipad spot.
The overhaul will deliver perks to the neighborhood, the company said, including better access between Savin Hill and the Morrissey Boulevard corridor through a multi-use pathway and improvements to Patten’s Cove. A potential maintenance agreement would allow Nordblom to “adopt” the park, which is managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The BEAT building management would mow the grass, trim the trees, maintain the pathways and the like around Patten’s Cove, and “make it more approachable,” Fremont-Smith said.
The developers are proposing 868 vehicle parking spaces and about 200 bicycle spaces, but the proximity to the JFK/UMass station is a major plus to “merge the real economy with the new economy,” Fremont-Smith said. “We think the city is coming this way; it’s headed in this direction.”
Groundwater tests have found that the land itself is clean, and any asbestos in the building will be removed by the summer, Fremont-Smith said. Nordblom is going thorough the Boston Planning and Development’s Article 80 Large Project Review process, having filed a Project Notification Form on Monday.
The company has already received inquiries from potential tenants, some looking for hundreds of thousands of square feet, some seeking tens of thousands of square feet, and micro breweries, even before officially marketing the site.
“Our job is to create something to which people want to go, a great place where they want to work,” Fremont-Smith said. “The city is out of space. The Seaport is done; Back Bay’s done.” And given the need for office, tech, and light industrial workplaces, he said, “we’re trying to do it in a creative and funky way that captures people’s imaginations."