November 13, 2020
Boston Business Journal
Out of the Park: New Fenway Sports Group partnership could further transform the neighborhood
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy has been talking about “Fenway 3.0” for years, a concept that would develop parcels outside America’s oldest ballpark to keep the area dynamic, even in the offseason.
Fenway 3.0 follows a nearly two-decade, $350 million investment into the park itself — a mission dubbed “Fenway 2.0” — which began when John Henry, Tom Werner and others chose to keep the original Fenway, rather than demolishing the park and building new, when the partners bought the Red Sox for $700 million at the end of 2001.
It wasn’t until this fall that Fenway Sports Group Real Estate, the real-estate subsidiary of the owner of the Red Sox, Fenway Sports Group, signaled it’s ready for the start of the long-awaited upgrade to the area surrounding the stadium. That’s when Fenway announced its partnership with WS Development and the D’Angelo family to bring housing, offices, retail stores and green space to five acres surrounding the historic ballpark.
Fenway 3.0 is the latest development plan for a neighborhood that has seen huge transformation in the past decade, with tall residential towers, offices and plenty of retail and restaurants dotting the streets near the park.
One notable facet of the new partnership is that it doesn’t involve any of the many developers that have spent years investing in the neighborhood — not Samuels & Associates or The Abbey Group, not Related Beal, Skanksa, Mark Development or Meredith Management.
Instead, it’s WS Development, a company that’s made a name for itself building high-end shopping centers across the U.S., and has also played a key role in the transformation of Boston’s Seaport District from muddy parking lots to a gleaming glass hub of offices, posh retail stores and luxury condominiums.
Business Journal Real Estate Editor Catherine Carlock spoke with Jonathan Gilula, managing director of Fenway Sports Group Real Estate, about the vision for Fenway 3.0.
What was the start of Fenway 3.0? We term the long history of Fenway as “Fenway 1.0.” For the past 20 years, the goal and focus has been to preserve, protect and enhance the local national treasure that’s Fenway Park. As we embarked on Fenway 2.0 — improving, enhancing, expanding the footprint of Fenway inside the walls of Fenway — our ownership group strategically acquired land and parcels of land surrounding the perimeter of Fenway when it became available, largely to protect the investment we were making inside the walls of the park. There was a lot of development happening in Fenway. The only way to control the surroundings was through acquisition.
What’s the goal of Fenway 3.0? Fenway 2.0 never ends, but our major investments concluded several years ago. Our focus has shifted more in a meaningful way outside the ballpark, trying to understand how best to activate these parcels — which are largely parking lots — in a way that’s complementary to the year-round activities at Fenway. We’ve activated Fenway Park in ways never contemplated or seen before. We’re now trying to understand how we can find uses for these parcels that complement Fenway Park, but also staying true to the design and architectural aesthetic of the ballpark. That’s critically important to us. Primarily when we think about Fenway 3.0, it’s not about maximizing height or density. We’re looking to create value, but do it in a way that doesn’t harm Fenway Park or the fan experience. Those priorities are very important to us.
How did the Fenway 3.0 partnership form? We’ve spent some real time kicking the tires, talking to a lot of different people who have expressed interest, either solicited or unsolicited. As it relates to the D’Angelo parcel (a large parcel on Jersey Street that’s home to the Boston Red Sox team store), they’re friends and business partners of ours. They run our retail operation. Going back to 2002, we worked together to close what was Yawkey Way between Van Ness Street and Brookline Avenue for ballgames. This is our first real-estate transaction with them, to ensure that we enhance the experience at Fenway. We’ve long talked and long collaborated with them. I think we all agreed that the highest and best use of their property across the street, and some of our properties, would be collaborating and working together. We share a common vision and understanding. They’ve been in the neighborhood forever, as have the Red Sox.
FSG Real Estate’s first foray into real-estate development is the MGM Music Hall at Fenway, at the corner of Lansdowne and Ipswich streets. Did you consider taking on development of the other parcels the group owns as well? We are acting as developers of the MGM Music Hall. It’s the live entertainment business. We’re already doing concerts at Fenway, so it was logical for us to take that on. But as we thought about these other parcels, and as we started looking at it in a more holistic way, we saw we would need the experience and expertise of a full-service developer. It was important to us in identifying one that shared our vision for the Fenway neighborhood, and one that would be able to work with both us and the D’Angelos.
How did FSG Real Estate and the D’Angelo family decide on WS Development? They’re relative outsiders to Fenway, and there are many other developers with substantial experience in the neighborhood. We talked to many developers over the years, to varying degrees. The genesis of the WS, D’Angelo, FSG Real Estate partnership happened organically. I can’t point to one conversation or one particular moment or one thing. At the end of the day, this was the right partnership for this time and this scope. Their recent development experience, particularly in the Seaport, we found to be very compelling. Fenway is not going to be the Seaport — it’s not a blueprint that is immediately transferable. We all have a different vision for Fenway.
What’s the early vision? Finding a way to expand upon the Fenway Park game-day activation through things that are already in place, by creating a mix of uses and cool spaces, destination-related activations, that will be designed to enhance the area for Fenway residents, Red Sox fans and visitors to the area. WS has had a lot of success with their prior experiences that may be different than someone looking to develop a singular parcel.
There are some other parcels that FSG Real Estate controls. How was the decision made to focus on these four parcels right now? It’s more a virtue of how the FSG Real Estate parcels related to the D’Angelo parcels. Every other one we have are separated from those.
FSGRE owns air-rights over the Mass. Pike—the rights to build over the highway. Is there a potential for air-rights with this partnership? Right now, our announcement about this partnership just includes the Lansdowne Garage — the terra firma piece.
What’s the next step? We’ve been excited to announce the partnership. In the coming days and weeks the partnership is going to put together more concrete thoughts on vision, program, design and actively solicit input and feedback from the city and neighborhood before there would be any sort of formal filing of any development application. We look forward to working closely with WS.
Do you have a sense of the timeline or cost of this development? I have neither. It’s just premature for us to comment on either of those. We’re focused on the process now of soliciting feedback from the local community. Given the magnitude of this project, it would likely be phased.
Where would you start first? That’s to be determined.
What does success look like for this partnership? We’re looking to identify ways to activate parcels of land that have been largely underutilized for as long as anybody can remember, and identify complementary uses to Fenway park to further enhance the game experience and, as importantly, the year-round appeal of the neighborhood. We’re doing that with an eye toward maintaining and preserving the charm and the historical integrity of the ballpark and its surroundings.
So, no small feat, huh? It’s a challenge, and I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of credit for accomplishing that approach inside the walls of Fenway, and we’re taking that same level of thought to our perimeter. We’ve identified partners that have the same goals and priorities in mind, so we’re exciting about embarking on this really exciting project that hopefully will be transformative for the neighborhood and the city of Boston.