Any new construction in an older, densely built city will pose challenges — but the expansion of Boston’s South Station into a high-rise, mixed-use complex has its own unique set of issues.
Developed by Hines with partners APG Groep NV and Dune Real Estate Partners and designed by global placemaker Pelli Clarke & Partners, South Station Tower is building more than 1 million square feet of office, residential and hotel space above the historic station, even as it is expanded and remains operational.
“This isn’t our first time working in this kind of environment,” said Jim Gutmann, vice president of construction at Hines. “Transit-oriented development is a great way of development, it’s sustainable in many ways.”
And don’t forget the pandemic, adding yet another layer of complexity for general contractor Suffolk Construction.
“The pandemic added some complexities and put a hiccup in the schedule,” said David Fenton, Northeast COO, commercial, at Suffolk.
Construction has been underway since January 2020 on the 51-story tower, which will feature 166 luxury condominium units serviced by The Ritz-Carlton on the top 15 floors. The lower 35 floors will feature 670,000 rentable square feet of premier, Class A office and amenity space as well as an expansive private park, designed by OJB, for residents and office tenants. The bus terminal expansion and improvement is expected to be completed in the third quarter of this year, while the residential and office project will be completed in 2025.Underground public transportation has been present at South Station for more than a century, but the current buildings (separate rail and bus terminals) date from the 1940s, making connections between them difficult at best. A mid-1980s redevelopment long before Hines became involved helped prepare for the current construction, Gutmann added.
“At that time, it was the MBTA and the city in anticipation of future expansion,” Gutmann said. “We’ve made use of the work they did in the 1980s to put some of the foundations in the rail yard.”
The new bus terminal will increase capacity by more than 50% and will provide direct, convenient connections to the train and subway. The completion of the South Station Transportation Center will create comfortable and convenient transfers to all modes of transit. The new outdoor concourse area will increase in size by 67% for an improved experience for passengers and people passing through the station. The tracks and platforms will be covered and the outdoor concourse will be transformed into an architecturally significant gateway to the city.
“South Station is already connected to the bus system, which feeds directly to Logan airport,” adding yet another layer of convenience, Gutmann said. “We came in with a logistics plan prepared in collaboration with MBTA, Amtrak and other stakeholders.”
AKF Code Consulting Group played a critical role securing special approvals for the groundbreaking project and was responsible for ensuring that the core and shell design complied with all applicable codes and ordinances, the company said. Because of the complexity of the project, Suffolk Construction was retained during the pre-construction phase and used building modeling to really image out what the construction process would look like.
“The biggest challenge was working around commuter traffic and the public,” said Fenton. “How were we going to work safely with an active train yard and making sure people were going to work and coming home?”
Phasing was critical. The first stage, from January 2020 through June 2020, entailed establishing construction zones on Atlantic Avenue, Summer Street and adjacent to Track 13.
A podium structure was created over the rail yard on the 1980s foundation and 10 of 13 tracks were pushed to the south to accommodate the construction of the future tower. Construction could only take place when certain sections of the track were shut down.
“There are almost two distinct components in the way the project is built: the overbuild of the existing rail yard, which eventually serves as a parking deck and then the tower,” Fenton continued.
Ironically, COVID-19 may have been something of a help at this stage, reducing ridership and even pedestrian traffic.
“But it didn’t change a whole lot of our logistics,” Gutmann said. “We still had to create a safe means of moving around the station.”
The pandemic also was not helpful in scheduling material delivery. With such a tight location, Suffolk utilized just-in-time delivery of materials, and supply chain delays were a serious issue.
“It hit in the most bizarre ways,” Fenton said. “We were having issues with insulation, rubber gasketing, window assemblies. It hit every single trade in some form or fashion.”
However, construction continued. Stage 2, which took place from July 2020 through June 2022, saw Suffolk begin construction on the expansion of the bus terminal and foundation and structure work on the tower.
“The design is unique,” Fenton said. “Above the super columns is complex concrete archwork to form the Great Space. It’s super cool.”
In the third and current stage, which began in July 2022 and will continue through June 2024, Suffolk will complete the South Station Transportation Center and the mixed-use tower. “We have constructed everything to date keeping the station completely active with minimal disruption to train service,” Gutmann said. “The most difficult portions are behind us, now that we have the podium structure erected. With the tower, we’re working within a well-defined work zone, separated by a construction barricade from the general public.”
Communication is constant among the team, with the tenants of neighboring buildings and with the appropriate government agencies.
“We have great relationships with all the city agencies,” Fenton said. “As this is also a state project, we have state agencies involved. They’ve all been extremely helpful.”
Suffolk is known to utilize pioneering technology, and South Station was no exception. Building image modeling and preassembly have helped ensure that parts align. The Voyage Control software platform helps Suffolk schedule deliveries in half-hour increments. Another program, Synchro 4D, tied the building model to the actual construction schedule.
“We can watch the building go up in time to make sure it’s being assembled in the right order,” Fenton said.
Now, with the infrastructure in place, multiple crews are building the tower.
Construction is being privately funded and, along with creating a new public space at the train station concourse, it will also improve the streetscape along Atlantic Avenue with new sidewalks, granite curbs, streetlights, greenery and street furniture, further activating the area and resulting in a vibrant, safe and welcoming experience for all. Hines is a veteran mixed-use developer.
“This is a very unique project given the surroundings of the train station, the amount of the activity and just the unique location,” Gutmann said. “Executing a project like this is the result of a large collaboration with a number of people — not just the results of one entity. It took a lot of people a lot of time and planning to get this underway. We’re quite excited about 2023, the year the tower will become visible in the skyline. It’s been a long wait, but it’s exciting.”