Let's make sense of the Fenway Corners development project

With the announcement of the Boston Planning and Development Agency approving the proposed venture from Fenway Sports Group and Twins Enterprises, let's dive in and understand what is actually going to be going on around Fenway Park, and what it may be like once it's all done.
Fenway Park Aerial General Views
Fenway Park Aerial General Views / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

For the first time since a mini research project I did in elementary school (or just me looking to kill time on the Internet as a young lad, truly who can say), I took a look at John Henry's Wikipedia page. After going through and reading about his ventures into trading soybean futures (which read like a draft of the screenplay for Trading Places) and building his fortune, I hit a sentence that stuck out to me: "Henry is also responsible for saving Fenway Park from the wrecking ball."

Of course, this sentence reads like a John Henry fanboy hopped on Wikipedia one night to try and defend Henry from Red Sox fans angry at ownership for seemingly not wanting to invest any money in the actual team, but they're not wrong. There was the New Fenway Park plan that former CEO John Harrington proposed in the late 1990s that, luckily, never came to fruition. (Harrington led the Yawkey Trust who sold the Red Sox to Henry and Tom Werner shortly after.) Henry has always understood the importance of Fenway, preferring to improve rather than rebuild with his development strategy for the stadium itself.

This has me curious about the proposed Fenway Corners plans that were approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on July 13. At first glance, it is going to be a rather large shakeup of the immediate area around Fenway Park, with the development boasting eight potential new buildings, possibly affecting 2 million square feet of land around Fenway. Now, we can look at big numbers and 3D-rendered images until our eyes glaze over, but let's get the key details down as to what is actually going to be going up around Fenway (as far as we know), and how long is this going to take (spoiler alert: probably a long time).

What is Fenway Corners?

On the BPDA website, they break the Fenway Corners project into two major projects: Fenway Corners North and Fenway Corners West. Fenway Corners North is going to refer to the portion of the project that concerns Lansdowne Street, while Fenway Corners West is going to effect Jersey Street, Van Ness Street, and Brookline Avenue, meaning the majority of the project is going to center around Gates A and D outside of the ballpark. Let's start with Fenway Corners West, since the most work will be done in this portion of the project.

Fenway Corners West is going to dramatically change the look of Jersey Street outside of Fenway Park. One of the main things is going to be Jersey Street changing from just being the team store on the opposite side of the street from Fenway, to being opened up to more retail offerings to outside companies. WS Development (the group helping shepherd this project for Fenway Sports Group and Twins Enterprise/'47 Brand) lists The Current as a key influence on this space in their presentation made to the community in June. For those not familiar, The Current is a row of permanent-standing pop-up retail space found in the Seaport District of Boston, meaning that the tenants in these spaces are not permanent, and will be ever-changing if the retail space on Jersey Street is going to be structured in a similar fashion.

Another key development in this space is a connection of Richard B. Ross Way to Brookline Avenue. This walkway, which is currently blocked by the old Twins Enterprise building, would allow for another connection point between the Brookline Avenue side of the ballpark (Gate A, box office) and the Van Ness Street side of the ballpark, ideally allowing for better pedestrian flow when leaving Red Sox games at Fenway Park. This portion of the project brings into play the proposed restructuring of the buildings along this stretch of Brookline Avenue, so expect a lot of upward development for retail space, office space, and some residential opportunities in these buildings. The main focus of Fenway Corners West is to establish more pedestrian space on this portion of the ballpark that, currently, is an extremely tight, traffic-disrupting walk if you are trying to walk to Fenway Park up Brookline Avenue from the Fenway T stop. In an ideal world, this new layout would be able to alleviate a lot of the traffic problems that occur driving around Fenway Park once you get close to the start and end of Red Sox games.

Fenway Corners North, which is entirely centered on Lansdowne Street, is going to be an upward development of retail space between the Cask 'n Flagon and the House of Blues. For those of you who know that space, that is where the Lansdowne parking garage currently sits across from the park (you may know it as the parking lot where home run balls smash windshields). The current plan is to convert that space into more retail space, possibly as an extension of what they plan to do on Jersey Street. This project will also officially turn Lansdowne Street into a one-way running out to Ipswich Street, beyond Gate C. It's not quite as land-altering as Fenway Corners West, but the optics around the ballpark, and the view behind the Green Monster from inside Fenway will most likely change with the development of Lansdowne Street.

What does this all mean?

Obviously, there are blindspots in my breakdown of everything going on with this proposed project, but if I tried to sit here and list every little detail of Fenway Corners, we would be here for days. I highly recommend taking a look at the WS Development website where they give an overview of the project (and let you step into the uncanny valley of the new look Fenway Park area), and have a poke around on the BPDA website to look through the presentations and documents that have been submitted to the City of Boston to get the full rundown of everything that is planned.

Overall, I'm not surprised by Fenway Sports Group trying to further build out the area around Fenway Park, we've seen the developments already like the new MGM Music Hall at Fenway and all of the different food options that surround the park. They want to keep making money, and if there comes a time when the ownership group wants to sell the team, they'll at least still have the lucrative Boston real estate holdings in the new development that they can profit off of in the long run.

One main worry that I have is the issue of parking around Fenway. Currently, it's hard enough to park around Fenway as is, and a few of the buildings being proposed are going to be sitting on land that is currently being used as parking lots around the ballpark. They do state that the Lansdowne building will have parking in it as part of its development, but I wasn't able to figure out what sort of parking situation there would be for Fenway Corners West. I would want to make sure that parking is something that is addressed, especially if they're planning to take over parking lots for these new buildings.

As someone who has watched the skyline of Boston evolve rapidly over the last 15 years, I am always wary of the idea of more glass-faced buildings going up on the streets of such a historic city. I worry that the Fenway area will lose its historic charm with these new developments. I worry that the timeline of the developments (currently looking at 5-8 years for completion) will cause the entire Fenway area to become impossible to drive through while construction occurs. I worry that some of these costs will end up falling on taxpayers (currently uncertain on if the funding of the project is entirely private or not). Lastly, I worry that it's going to look ugly.

Ultimately, the entire area around Fenway Park is going to be changing, whether we want it to or not. But, with it coming from the man who helped save Fenway Park, who put seats on the Monster, who turned the trajectory of the Red Sox as a franchise around completely, I think we just need to see what happens with Fenway Corners.

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