Developers are often quick to brag about their projects. But how can you can tell when they truly fall in love with a property? They move in. Just ask Curtis Kemeny, president and CEO of Boston Residential Group, who purchased a two-story penthouse unit at his latest creation: 360 Newbury Street, the transformation of an early twentieth-century Boston landmark into 54 chic loft-style condo units with 360-degree views of the city.
“This building is honestly not just another real estate deal,” says Kemeny. “When you see those views, when you experience the volume of the 13-foot ceilings, and you experience the finish level, it really has an impact on you.” But perhaps the most striking feature of all: the exterior architecture. In the 1980s, famed architect Frank Gehry added his touch to the historic facade, adorning two sides of the building in lead-coated copper.
Many Bostonians best remember the building as the home of the 46,000-square-foot Virgin Megastore music shop (which just recently moved out of the building and will be replaced by Best Buy). But the building has had many uses over the years. The property first opened in 1918 as the Boston Transit Building, headquarters of the Boston Rail Co. and later the Boston branch of the American Red Cross. From the 1930s to the 1970s, the building was used for semi-industrial work until Gehry helped transform it into a multi-tenant commercial space. (Interestingly, Kemeny helped with this redesign, too, as he worked for the building's then-owner).
BIG ASSIGNMENT The Class B office building was in fairly good shape, but the development team knew that a gut rehab was the only way to create the desired luxury product. All the work, though, was done within the building's existing framework, which was restored to its original splendor (as required by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places). Fortunately, the building's shell easily lent itself to a residential conversion. “The building had very good bones for residential use because it's a cast-in-place building with very tall floor-to-floor heights, a concrete frame good for sound control between units, and large window openings,” says Laurence Grossman, principal of Cambridge, Mass.-based ADD, the project's architect and interior designer.
The team did save an important building element: the lobby. But the two-story space desperately needed a facelift. “Design is like fashion,” says Grossman. “What was fashionable in the eighties is no longer fashionable in 2006.” ADD swapped outdated polished brass for stainless steel, installed a tall, mahogany-colored door to warm up the space, and restored the original blue granite floor.
Such historic renovations are challenging enough without working above an operating retailer. The developer and architect had to find a way to run utility wires from the units to the street, without disrupting the busy three-story Virgin Megastore. The development team and retail tenant battled through tense negotiations and ultimately a lawsuit. The winning solution: instead of running the wiring through the music store's ceiling, the team built a false floor two feet above the fourth floor (to run the wire). “So when you come into the units you enter two feet higher and then you step down into the living rooms,” Grossman explains. “It actually turned out to be quite dramatic.”
PAY DAY 360 Newbury Street is about 70 percent sold (as of press time), quite a feat given the slowing condo market. (Kemeny says the building's uniqueness, unit size, and actual model unit in the building all helped sales.) Inside, the contemporary-style units, which sell for $500,000 to $3 million, feature a simple and muted color palette, European cabinetry, dark stained oak floors, and top-of-the-line appliances. “Back Bay elegance meets Manhattan-style edge,” says Grossman. The diverse buyer mix includes empty nesters, young professionals, and urban sophisticates ... including the occasional developer.
PROPERTY: 360 Newbury Street
DEVELOPER: Boston Residential Group
RENOVATION COST: $25 million LENGTH OF RENOVATION: 14 months SCOPE OF PROJECT: Adaptive reuse of an office building