Developer offers a vision to get Kenmore Square moving

A proposed hotel tower in Kenmore Square.
Studio Gang
A proposed hotel tower in Kenmore Square.

Kenmore Square may never be the same.

A developer is proposing to build a major hotel and plaza in the heart of the square that would dramatically change the way vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles move through the congested intersection.

Robert Korff, who owns the Citizens Bank building at the junction of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, unveiled the bold plan Tuesday night at a community meeting.


Drawings show a flatiron-shaped tower — designed by prominent Chicago architecture firm Studio Gang — soaring nearly 300 feet above the square, with a spacious plaza at its base that replaces what is now largely asphalt. Most significantly, Korff wants to cut a new street behind the hotel that would connect Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street and allow much of the traffic that now passes through the five-way intersection to be diverted around it.

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“Our plan is to create a Kenmore Square whose heart is a public space, rather than a busy roadway,” said Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner hired by Korff to help design the project. “That’s kind of the most important thing.”

The proposed changes to Kenmore square would reorganize the traffic flow of the current five-way intersection.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File
The proposed changes to Kenmore square would reorganize the traffic flow of the current five-way intersection.

The $200 million project is a reworking of a tower plan that Korff proposed nearly two years ago for the Citizens Bank site. That idea was met with criticism from residents of an older condominium tower next door who said it would overwhelm their building, as well as from city officials who worried that it wouldn’t do enough to improve conditions for walkers and cyclists in Kenmore Square.

Now Korff has responded with a grander idea, making the building taller but also locating it closer to the center of the square while steering Beacon Street into a sort of dogleg behind it. The result would shorten crosswalks, make room for protected bike lanes, and trade asphalt for almost a half-acre of new sidewalk. It also would put a striking triangular tower, which Korff hopes to fill with a four-star hotel, as a bookend on the square’s western edge.

The building would be the tallest in Kenmore Square itself, part of a westward expansion of the city’s so-called High Spine that includes a potential 305-foot-high tower above the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park and the 378-foot-tall Pierce Boston condo tower nearby at Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue.


“This is truly going to be a transformational project,” Korff said. “It will tie the whole square together.”

But getting to that point will be complicated.

The plan will need to win the blessing of neighborhood groups, and, probably, influential abutters such as Boston University and the Red Sox (whose principal owner, John Henry, also owns the Globe.) Korff said that thus far he’s received generally positive responses in private meetings and has launched what will likely be several months of formal public review, kicked off by Tuesday night’s meeting with a panel of community members who have been reviewing the project.

He will also need to convince the Boston Planning & Development Agency and city transportation planners that completely redoing one of the city’s busier intersections won’t make the already heavy auto traffic worse. While BPDA officials have met with Korff several times in recent months, they’re waiting to see more detailed traffic studies before they cast any judgment, said Jonathan Greeley, the agency’s director of development review.

“There’s an interesting opportunity here, but we’re still in early stages of evaluating it,” Greeley said. “We look forward to engaging the community and other stakeholders to see what they think.”


If approved, the project would be one of several major developments that promise to remake Kenmore Square and its surroundings in the coming years.

Development firm Related Beal won approval last year to renovate a block of buildings on the north side of the square — including the one with the famous Citgo sign on its rooftop — into high-end office space. And Gerding Edlen and Meredith Management Corp. have finally launched construction on the first phase of Fenway Center, a pair of apartment towers just up Beacon Street near Fenway Park.

Meanwhile, Boston University has filed plans for a striking 17-story data sciences center just west of Kenmore Square on Commonwealth Avenue. The school also owns a surface parking lot at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield Streets that has long been eyed for redevelopment.

As a result of all this development in the works and planned, the neighborhood — which has long served as a kind of front door to Back Bay and downtown from points west — is becoming an extension of downtown itself.

“Kenmore Square is almost a welcome mat for lots of people coming to Boston for lots of reasons,” Greeley said. “We’re always happy to see people exploring ways to reinvest in it.”

For Korff and Speck, that means making it an easier place to walk around.

Because of Red Sox games and concerts at Fenway, tens of thousands of people flood into the area on many days and night during the year. The square also is a hub for tens of thousands of college students, many of whom traverse it on foot. An ambitious plan to make the place more pedestrian friendly makes a lot of sense, they said, even if it might face some pushback from drivers.

“So we’ll propose this,” Korff said, “and see what that brings.”

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.