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Developer Plans To Fill The Hole In Downtown Crossing04:21
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The Downtown Crossing hole, seen here in 2010 (WBUR File)
The Downtown Crossing hole, seen here in 2010 (WBUR File)

The big hole in Downtown Crossing here may finally be filled. Vornado Realty Trust has relinquished control of the site to Millenium Partners, and this new developer is planning to build a 600-foot tower behind the facade of the old Filene's department store.

Over the past few years, Millenium's developments have moved the focus of downtown from Downtown Crossing to up the street. That's where you'll find the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residences, a movie complex and the Paramount Theatre. They're all Millenium projects.

"I couldn't think of a better partner for the City of Boston and for Downtown Crossing than Millenium Partners," Mayor Thomas Menino said at a news conference at City Hall Friday.

Menino said the redevelopment of Downtown Crossing was something he and his head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Peter Meade, have talked about two or three times a day.

Meade recalled one time in the mayor's office: "The first thing he said to me was: 'We gotta get the Filene's thing done.' And I can tell you it was not the last time he said that."

Vornado stopped work on the Filene's site just as the economy collapsed, in the summer of 2008. Ever since then, Menino has been trying to get Vornado to restart construction, without success.

Phil Aarons, one of the founders of Millenium Partners, said the company was interested in the Filene's site before Vornado bought it.

"What excites us about this site is the opportunity to do something truly spectacular," Aarons said. "You start with a very beautiful historic building, which we plan to renovate."

Aarons says his project will include retail, offices and apartments.

"I think it will become the center of downtown and I'm proud to be a part of that," Aarons said.

Millenium says it expects the project to cost about $500 million.

Around the big hole on Friday morning, shopkeepers, passersby and vendors seemed to be enthusiastic about the fact that a developer is finally committed to building on the site.

"About time you did something with it," said Hall Adams, who was setting up a cart in front of the facade of Filene's. "It's supposed to be the showplace of the city, right, Downtown Crossing? And you got this big hole in the ground here, so glad to see somebody's going to do something with it."

Suffolk University is in the process of moving to Downtown Crossing. Molly Hubert, a Suffolk student, doesn't think the new retail and office space will make much of difference. She says there's already so much of it in Downtown Boston, but she thinks the new residential units will spur a needed change.

"I think that having some nicer living spaces in this area, on this street, will definitely improve this area a little bit," Hubert said.

Amid the proliferation of sneaker stores on Washington Street, one venerable jeweler, E.B. Horn, founded in 1839, has survived.

Manager Richard Finn predicts that as long as the Filene's project is a mix of luxury retail, office and residential space, it will be a tremendous boon to the entire area.

"It'll create a great revitalization and new excitement," Finn predicted.

It will still take some time before any revitalization can occur. Construction is not expected to begin for another year.

This program aired on February 3, 2012.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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