By: Catherine Carlock

The Peebles Corp. is shifting its vision for a Back Bay air-rights project.

Instead of long-held plans to put luxury housing and a hotel above the Massachusetts Turnpike on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Boylston Street, the New York-based real estate development company instead Thursday proposed an all-affordable apartment building with accompanying lab facility, a project that could cost upward of $500 million to develop.

It’s on what’s known as Parcel 13, an “air-rights” site stretching above the Turnpike between the Hynes Green Line station and Boylston Street. Peebles’ proposal will include two buildings — one 300,000-square-foot lab, and a 125-unit apartment building — built side by side atop a deck built over the highway.

State officials first tapped Peebles to develop Parcel 13 in 2015, but it wasn’t until February 2020 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic — that the company filed formal plans with the city for luxury housing and a hotel on the site. Then the pandemic hit, and walloped the global hospitality sector. Peebles went back to the drawing board.

“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to reconsider and reevaluate the project,” said Don Peebles, founder, chairman, and chief executive of Peebles Corp. “As a developer, we ought to be able to meet the community where it is, and to meet the needs, and still make a profitable project.”

Peebles, which bills itself as the largest African-American owned real estate development firm in the United States, aims to create a project team that comprises 51 percent women- or minority-owned business enterprises. New York’s McKissack & McKissack, a minority and woman-owned design and construction firm, and architecture firm Moody Nolan are on board.

After nearly 40 years of plans that fizzled, the project is one of several Mass. Pike air-rights developments moving forward now in the city, including Samuels & Associates’ Parcel 12, located just across Mass. Ave. from the Peebles site, where two tower cranes are building the future headquarters of online car seller CarGurus and a CitizenM hotel, along with lab space and a public plaza.

The Peebles project will create three new entrances to the Green Line station, along with accessibility upgrades to the station itself, and connect to another new entrance across Mass. Ave. on Parcel 12, said Scott Bosworth, MassDOT’s undersecretary and chief strategy officer.

MassDOT plans to use proceeds of the sale to upgrade the station, and the MBTA has committed $60 million to finish the job, Bosworth said.

“It’s about a $90-95 million effort to bring this station up to full accessibility,” Bosworth said.

For the housing, Peebles intends to pursue both city and state subsidies, along with federal low-income housing tax credits. It’s also asking elected officials to allocate some federal infrastructure money for the project — which would include building a $64 million deck over the Mass. Pike on which to build the lab and apartment buildings.

“That’s what it’s going to need to get the housing done, but we’re confident that we’re going to be able to do that,” Peebles said. “We think that having affordable housing in the most expensive area in Boston says that this is a moment in time that developers, in partnership with the state, are meeting the community’s needs.”

Credit: Boston Globe