BOSTON-After years of delays and uncertainty, the developers of a $600-million mixed-use complex planned over the Hub’s South Station have taken a significant step forward with the filing of a Draft Environmental Impact Report with state environmental officials. The filing kicks off public review of the ambitious 2.1 million-sf project, a joint venture between Hines Interests and Tufts University.

“We’ll have a good feel in the next month or so as to what the issues are,” says Hines vice president David Perry, with the draft EIR providing a formal process for interested parties to voice any concerns. Perry says he anticipates that the first leg of the approval will be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2001, while a best-case scenario would have the project underway by the end of next year.

Among the potential roadblocks are questions being raised by Amtrak and the Federal Aviation Administration. The former is troubled about service interruptions on the train tracks above which most of the development would be built, whereas the FAA has criticized a planned 47-story office tower due to possible impacts on air traffic. Preservationists, meanwhile, worry that new construction would detract from a recent restoration of the historic South Station itself.

Having already done several redevelopments at major transit centers, including construction of a new office building over New York City’s Grand Central Post Office, Hines should be able to mitigate any conflicts, Perry predicts, maintaining that, “we’ve got a program that we think is going to satisfy Amtrak and the [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority],” which operates commuter and subway lines through the station.”We have dealt with those issues elsewhere, and we feel we can also address them at South Station,” says Perry.

The project calls for a 500-room hotel and nine-story office/research building in addition to the 47-story tower. Originally proposed by Tufts in the 1980s, the complex was delayed by the recession of the early 1990s before Tufts hooked up with Hines in 1998.

Since the joint venture was announced, the project has often seemed stuck in limbo, with several other new buildings racing past South Station as developers try to take advantage of the city’s tight office market. This summer, however, the Hines/Tufts team won a rare exemption from the Massachusetts Legislature on a Chapter 91 license usually required for development along Boston Harbor, and got unexpected backing from the powerful Conservation Law Foundation. The environmental group says the project encourages the use of public transportation.

Although Perry acknowledges that momentum has picked up, he insists there were never any doubts that Hines and Tufts could kick it off successfully. “We feel we’ve been making good progress for two years,” Perry says. “A lot of that hasn’t been noticed by the outside, but it has put us in the position where we are today.”

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