On Wednesday, business development leaders exchanged ideas on how to revitalize Boston’s Downtown Crossing during a seminar at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre.
Suffolk University’s Center for Real Estate Development and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board hosted the event, “Downtown Crossing - Back in Business.” NECN Business editor Peter Howe moderated the discussion, which was part of the Building Boston 2030 series.
Just days after Millennium Partners unveiled its plans to redevelop the former Filene’s site, panelists shared their ideas about new retail, housing, office, entertainment, and hospitality opportunities that can contribute to the area’s ongoing transformation and dispel the perception that it is unsafe.
Howard Elkus, principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects, said there are “fantastic opportunities” to make Downtown Crossing an area to “live, work, play, grow, and learn.”
Inspired by major cities like Istanbul, Elkus suggested that Boston examine innovative ways to transform open spaces in Downtown Crossing. Creative elements, such as illuminated streets, painted buildings, and water fountains; as well as street vendors and entertainment, can help attract people to the area, he said.
Elkus also asked fellow panelists whether the revitalized district would need a new brand. Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID), and Mike Tesler, founder and partner, at Retail Concepts, agreed that it may be premature to rebrand Downtown Crossing-at least until the Filene’s development project is finalized.
Although Downtown Crossing is one of the busiest areas of the city-attracting more than 250,000 pedestrians every weekday-there is concern about the lack of nightlife. Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods, said he has been "tempted" to open a restaurant in Downtown Crossing, but is deterred by inactivity at night.
To help attract more people to the area, several upcoming events, including block parties, talent shows, car shows, and a running of the bridesmaids, are underway, said Sansone. Macy’s also plans to extend its hours to 10 p.m.
As for the crime problems, Randi Lathrop, deputy director of Community Planning at Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), said that statistically, Downtown Crossing is safe compared to other Boston neighborhoods. People just have a negative perception of the area.
Sansone agreed, noting that she is meeting with police officials this week to discuss issues in the area, including homelessness and panhandling, as well as litter and graffiti.
Downtown Crossing offers “one wild opportunity after another,” said Elkus. “This is a vital and timely discussion that absolutely needs to be continued.”
Student Vision and Design Competition
Suffolk students were also invited to join the discussion by participating in the "Student Vision and Design Competition.” Three winning teams each received a $1,000 reward for their suggestions on how to redevelop the area.
To join the discussion, follow @SuBizSchool on Twitter and use the hashtag: #BuildingBoston2030.