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Downtown developer bucks trend; still plans condos in new tower

New buidling on EssexDeveloper Ori Ron told the Boston Civic Design Commission tonight he still plans to build a tower combining condos with retail space at the Dainty Dot parcel at Kingston and Essex streets, where Chinatown meets the Leather District and the Greenway.

Ron also told commission members and nearby residents he would not leave them with another Filene's-type hole: He said he would not tear down the existing Dainty Dot building until he has financing in place to at least build the external frame of the tower.

Ron showed the commission revised plans for the 180-unit building - which already has city approval - that would lower its height from 291 to 261 feet, decrease the number of parking spaces in a garage built into the building's lower floors and do away completely with the skeletal remains of the Dainty Dot building that now sits on the parcel.

As a sop to preservationists, Ron had originally proposed saving the facade of that building and reapplying it as a front on one side of the new tower, but it turned out nobody liked that idea.

Ron and his architect also showed how they had basically made the building more boring to satisfy Boston Redevelopment Authority planners who did not want it becoming an "iconic" structure that would take attention away from the Greenway or other nearby buildings - including museums and similar structures that might one day be built along the Greenway.

Commission member Andrea Leers said the new proposal is a marked improvement but that the building is still probably 100 feet too tall. City zoning for that area calls for buildings no more than 100 feet tall, but the BRA last year granted permission for the much taller building.

Member Lynn Wolff declared the new building "not at all better," adding, "Once again we've created a building that is greatly compromised by the process."

Member Michael Davis: "It's still far too much building for a small site." However, Davis acknoweldged Ron was in an impossible position because of so many competing demands: Housing advocates want affordable housing for Chinatown - Ron is building 47 affordable units nearby - preservationists want to keep the Dainty Dot building and Chinatown business owners want something, anything, built on the parcel now.

Member Kirk Sykes said he likes the project, because the Greenway will remain a barren expanse of grass without people living nearby to actually use it after the tourists leave.

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"Ron and his architects also showed how they had basically made the building more boring to satisfy Boston Redevelopment Authority planners who did not want it becoming an "iconic" structure that would take attention away from the Greenway or other nearby buildings - including museums and similar structures that might one day be built along the Greenway."

Incredible.

What an awful building. The only thing that would make it worse would be to cut 100' off of it. It already looks like a vent or cooling tower for the T.

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shame on tearing down that historic building!!!!

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The building is old; it is not in any meaningful sense historic.

We should preserve the term 'historic' for structures that preserve a link to some genuinely significant event, trend, or time. The Dainty Dot building is a perfectly nice structure. I certainly understand why many will be sad to see it swept away. And there's a compelling argument to be made in favor of preserving a diverse array of structures in our neighborhoods, representing a wide variety of times and styles.

But historic? I'd love to know how you make that claim.

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The Dainty Dot Building is awesome and should be saved if only for the fact that it totally looks like a front for the hideout of a Batman villain.

That said, this "We'll make the building look uglier so that the rest of the neighborhood looks better" concept is pure and utter nonsense.

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This is exactly why they can't just widen BU Bridge to add bike lanes without sacrificing a lane in each direction for half of the bridge. It's less of an issue for buildings, but when critical infrastructure is being called "historic" (oh noes!) and we dance around it like it's an archaeological find it costs a ton more and we lose convenience and progress in order to preserve history.

I'm not suggesting we blow up the North Church for a mini-mall, but there are some "historic" things that can be cycled out or improved upon.

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Agreed. Why on earth don't we want iconic structures in this city? Wouldn't the Greenway be enhanced were it lined by memorable and exciting buildings?

I also continue to tear out my small amount of remaining hair when I read the misguided objections of supposed preservationists. Chinatown has always been an extraordinarily dense neighborhood, with a huge number of people crowded into narrow sites. It hasn't previously been a terribly vertical neighborhood - its buildings are short - but I have a hard time understanding the objection that this design puts too much building on too small a site.

What, exactly, are the alternatives? Freeze the existing supply and density of housing in place, thus driving up prices and destroying the tattered vestiges of affordability? Insist on larger sites in the future, that require knocking down greater numbers of old buildings?

This is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and it's what happens when boards consider individual projects stripped of their broader context. When we approve a project, we should encourage developers to build tall and dense. I wish this building would ascend to the maximum height that financing will allow, thus satisfying as much pent-up demand as possible for downtown housing, and alleviating the pressures on other areas. If we're going to let him knock down a building and put up a modern tower, why not make it a large an iconic modern tower, instead of imposing mediocrity in every respect?

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You know how some people, when hitting the meatmarket bars and clubs, are advised to pick a less-attractive friend to be "wingman", so as to look better by comparison? :)

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Well, in that case, they should've required that the building be entirely stripped of any adornment, and eliminated the condos. That way, the Greenway would've looked relatively populated.

The tragedy of the Expressway was that it gutted the urban core, placing a barren wasteland between the waterfront and the city. So we tore it down, and in its placed...installed an almost barren wasteland between the waterfront and the city. It's criss-crossed with streets, lacks any compelling function or draw, and can't seem to find a purpose in life. About the only remaining rationale was that, although the Greenway itself might be a colossal waste of space, at least it would attract renewed development along its boundaries.

But now we're blocking that development, scaling it down and insisting that it be bland. Sometimes, this city drives me nuts.

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I totally agree. Buildings in the city center are supposed to be tall. From a ground-level perspective, a few more stories are not even noticeable. How the building interacts with the street is far more important that the height, especially when there are already many tall buildings nearby.

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that paragraph got me too. Personally, I think anything thing that takes attention away from the over-designed (which is why it is under-used) Greenway is an asset. And the idea of not wanting to draw attention from non-existant buildings doesn't sit well with me either. Good gracious, every building should have the right to be beautiful!

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my deodorant dispenser. Like a stick deodorant dispenser.

Not to be confused with the Copley Roll-On.

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You can't build a tall building. You can't build a short building.
You can't build an iconic building. You can't build an ugly building. You can't do this, you can't do that.

Is any one else starting to wonder why rent is so high (commercial AND residential), or is it just me?

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At one point, somebody on the commission started to complain about how plain part of the building was. At which point the developer and his architect reminded the commission that the original buidling design was fancier, but they changed it because the BRA told them to.

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Does that make it a no frills BRA?

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A direct result of stuffing cash into a BRA.

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I think Bostonians would be much happier if we just went BRA-less.

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My mind was spinning and jaw dropped to the ground, the more I read of this post. First of all, there are problems with the building, something new needs to be put in its place or an old "historic" building that is of no use right now should be preserved, but not really preserved because it wouldn't look good, but the plans for the new building are too tall, the Greenway needs to be kept in mind....I could go rambling to try to sum this all up...but it has given me a headache.

As someone not a native of Boston, but in the real estate industry, it has been very interesting to see the constant controversy facing developers of the preservation of old buildings & the creation of new ones. Even when a building that is older that doesn't even have much significance it is viewed as "historic" and new is looked down upon. Believe me, this is not something you see in other cities as much.

While I appreciate the effort to keep the historically rich architectural of this established city, at some point there needs to be more acceptance & encouragement for new developments without facing so much adversity to get the approval for these buildings. It is a positive thing to maintain a balance of old buildings & new, but there needs to be less resistance to new ideas.

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I'm not sure I agree with your final statement that there needs to be less resistance to new ideas. Boston is an old city with unique character that, I think, most Bostonians want preserved while allowing gradual inovation. While old structures may not be the best "use" of some land, their presence preserves the feel of the city. The BRA - through its direction from the Mayor's office - fills the gatekeeper role and can effectively be held accountable by Bostonians through Mayoral elections. Although I would agree with some that the BRA should have its eminent domain authority taken away to avoid another West End debacle, I also think that, responsibly managed, the BRA can serve to allow "new ideas" to flourish in the City while ensuring that they don't come about at a pace that will abruptly disrupt the City's character. In that sense, Mayoral elections are not just about what policies the candidates will carry out, but what vision they have for the City in their term.

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Did you copy this from the Menino campaign website? Dot... you can do better than that.

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Does the building in the rendering above represent a new idea? It sounds like your confusing any change with a new idea. I like the dainty dot building. I'd be okay with seeing it go if there was an attractive building put in its place. I also wonder what part of the greenway would be effected by shadows from a tall building in this location.

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dainty dot is an amazing historical building in chinatown.
the facade could easily remain intact and the condos built around it.
Last thing the city needs is another boring high rise. It's all about $$$.

This building has character, and it's one of the few remaining textile buildings. It should not be torn down.

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