Newton-based real estate firm The RMR Group is planning its first foray into Boston development with what would be one of the city’s tallest buildings: a 700-foot office and hotel tower on a plot of land near North Station.
The project at the corner of Causeway and North Washington streets has not been formally proposed, but RMR representatives have had preliminary meetings with both the Boston Planning & Development Agency and District 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta.
In a statement, RMR president and CEO Adam Portnoy said the firm looked forward to engaging with the the city and community members during the BPDA’s Article 80 development-review process.
“Decades of smart-growth planning and billions of dollars in public infrastructure spending have unlocked economic development throughout the Causeway Street corridor,” Portnoy said in a statement. “We are seeking to invest in Boston and create an opportunity for employers to bring high quality jobs and workers back to our downtown.”
The tower would be RMR’s first development project in Boston and would come at a time of great uncertainty about the future of the downtown office market as companies embrace remote work. Many newly built or planned towers, however, have had success in locking down big leases in recent months. The under-construction One Congress office tower is fully leased ahead of its opening, while Bain & Co. recently leased a future nine-story office just off the Boston Public Garden.
The Causeway Street tower, though, has a long way to go before any companies move in. And even before images are publicly available, some neighbors have expressed concerns, particularly about the tower’s height. At 700 feet it would be the fourth tallest building in Boston and taller by a few feet than anything outside Back Bay.
Coletta, whose district includes 251 Causeway St., said the neighborhood has seen a lot of construction of late — including The Hub on Causeway and active work to replace the North Washington Street bridge — and that some constituents had already expressed concerns.
“I told [RMR] that I felt like it was too high,” Coletta said. “They do intend to have a robust community process, and I look forward to that community process and hearing from neighbors and getting their feedback.”
Neighborhood groups have begun to weigh in, too, with Susann Benoit of the West End Civic Association and Victor Brogna of the North End / Waterfront Residents Association penning a joint letter to BPDA director Arthur Jemison, asking for “early public notice of and transparency in any City or BPDA conversations or other interactions with the developer” and “a detailed analysis, with public participation” before kicking off the city’s formal review process.
“We look forward to your affirming Mayor Wu’s commitment for structural changes that will elevate city planning, reform the City’s development process, and bring more public transparency and involvement to the City’s growth and future,” the letter said.
The BPDA said that, while it has had “an initial introductory meeting” with RMR, the project had not been formally filed with the agency. Current zoning for 251 Causeway St. allows a maximum height of 100 feet. The zoning map for the area was adopted more than three decades ago, and the vast majority of new development proposals in Boston seek zoning variances.
“If the proponent proceeds with a filing, it will go through a robust community process and review by our staff, during which things like height, FAR [floor area ratio], and zoning will be analyzed,” a BPDA spokesperson said by email.
And the tower does have its fans in the neighborhood.
Paul D’Amore, who owns Massimino’s Cucina Italiana restaurant at nearby 207 Endicott St., welcomed the idea of additional development. A new tower could bring more jobs and business to the area, he said.
“I know in our community, sometimes ... everybody’s against it right away without listening,” D’Amore said. “At the end of the day, anything that makes that area more pleasing to the eye, to me, is good. Anything that makes it safer, to me, is good.”
While RMR is based in Newton, most of its developments are in cities outside Boston, including an office, hotel, and retail building in downtown Washington, D.C., mixed-use redevelopments in Seattle and San Diego, and a 16-acre, 3 million-square-foot project in Nashville. The firm has more than $37 billion worth of assets under management across the United States and owns 41 properties in Massachusetts, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ headquarters in the Seaport.
The company began buying up property along Causeway and North Washington streets in 2010. Since then, RMR affiliates have spent more than $65 million to acquire the triangular-shaped land parcel bounded by Causeway, Medford, and North Washington streets — which is currently home to several mid-sized office buildings — along with a separate triangular-shaped surface parking lot at 181-183 N. Washington St., according to Suffolk County property records.