|By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., The Boston Globe
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 1, 2006 - A long-dormant plan for a 25-story hotel on a parking lot that occupies a central Theater District location is being revived and could go into construction this year, the developer said yesterday.
Formerly approved by the city as a Loews hotel, the project at Tremont and Stuart streets now is tentatively slated to be a hip and modern W hotel of about 220 rooms, with 100 luxury residential condominiums on the upper floors.
John P. Connolly, vice president of development for Sawyer Enterprises, said nothing has been formally filed with City Hall, but "We are in the process of reprogramming the project. The envelope of the [proposed] building will stay essentially the same."
The building, on a 26,000-square-foot lot between Warrenton Street and Tremont Street, would have its entrance on the long side of the building, along Stuart Street. A small private way, Seaver Place, would separate it from the Shubert Theater.
Connolly, who promised a four-star hotel on the site, would not confirm that the W flag has been chosen. "There are certain issues that are confidential," he said.
But others associated with the project, none of whom agreed to be quoted by name, referred to it as a W.
"They're in talks with W Hotels about that," said Jane Lehman, director of public relations for W Hotels Worldwide, which has 20 locations, mostly in the United States, and is expanding around the globe.
News of the new hotel in the Theater District comes only weeks after the city reached an agreement with a development team to create a lively and colorful "gateway" building for the area, across Tremont Street from the hotel site and next to The Wilbur Theatre.
The slender building there, on a small lot now occupied by a trailer where tickets are sold, will house commercial activity on the lower floors, including a restaurant, and residences above.
W Hotels, described by Lehman as boutique-like, with the service of a luxury brand, is owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which also owns Westin, Sheraton, and other brands.
The 390-room Loew's Hotels Inc. facility that Sawyer Enterprises proposed in the late 1990s drew opposition because its height and size were out of scale with nearby Bay Village, a residential neighborhood of more modestly sized buildings. Following an agreement that limited the size of additional development nearby, the hotel was approved by the Boston Zoning Commission at 25 floors, or 274 feet, in August 2001.
But that was about a month before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We had to set it aside for awhile," Connolly said. "The hotel market just died completely. Financing for hotels even with condos would not have occurred for 18 months to two years."
Now the hotel market is recovering, but most new inns are being built along the residential-hotel model, including the Mandarin Oriental complex under construction at the Prudential Center, the InterContinental on Atlantic Avenue, and the Regent at Battery Wharf in the North End.
"The new iteration of how to get hotels built today is a combination of residential and hotels," Connolly said.
He said he hopes to file documents with the city soon, to win approval for condos in what had been approved as hotel and retail, with performing arts space on the fourth floor to have been used by Emerson College. Construction could begin by the end of the year, Connolly said.
The hotel building will have two levels of parking underground, with 140 spaces. It will be only a block or two from MBTA stations on the Green and Orange lines.
Previously, Sawyer Enterprises built Niketown Boston, on Newbury Street.
The architects for the Theater District project are Jung|Brannen Associates Inc. of Boston, as architect of record, and a smaller firm, William Rawn Associates Architects Inc., also of Boston, doing the design. Bovis Lend Lease will manage construction, Connolly said, but he was "not ready to talk about" who will do interior design or be marketing agent.
Connolly said no rendering is available for the building because it is being updated. Costs are also being reassessed; the estimated cost in 2001 was $150 million.
Jung|Brannen and William Rawn Associates declined to comment, as did the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
David Rosen, vice president for public affairs at Emerson College, said he "thought the project was dead."
"I'm glad to hear it's back on track, but I'm pretty sure we have nothing to do with it," he said.
Emerson is moving forward with a $77 million plan to redevelop the Paramount Theater on Washington Street and adjacent properties and to include performance space there.
"A lot of the new space there is what would essentially have been in the Loews," he said.
But Connolly said that, in lieu of leasing space to Emerson, his firm would be making a $1 million donation "for cultural uses in the Theater District through the BRA."
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