BOSTON-One of the downtown’s most venerable landmarks is another step closer to a major renovation, as Suffolk Construction Co. has been tabbed to provide pre-construction services for the $370 million overhaul of the Filene’s Department Store complex. Vornado Realty Trust and Gale International are expanding the in-fill site anchored by 426 Washington St., upon which are three historic buildings that will be incorporated into the 1.5-million-sf project.

The age of the structures and location in the heart of the Downtown Crossing shopping district through which 100,000 people traipse daily present “exciting challenges,” Suffolk CEO John Fish acknowledges, but insists his firm is up to the task. “I am confident our pre-construction professionals have the expertise to quickly move this project into the construction phase,” says Fish, whose company has already done select demolition. The pre-construction group will now assess materials and processes, and conduct site analysis to identify issues and finalize cost assumptions.

The multi-faceted project is one of several buildings featuring class A office space that are angling to hit downtown Boston by the end of the decade by moving forward immediately. Anticipating a groundbreaking by early summer, August 2010 is the target for completion of the Filene’s expansion. Near South Station, the Russia Wharf redevelopment will yield 520,000 sf of office space, while Lincoln Property Co. is scrambling to launch Two Financial Center, a 12-story, 220,000-sf office building. The downtown sector has seen more than one million sf of office space added this decade at One Lincoln St. and 33 Arch St., Boston’s newest office tower, a 32-story, 600,000-sf building located just steps from Filene’s. Meredith & Grew reports a 10.4% vacancy rate for Boston’s office market in the first quarter, a survey tracking 56.3 million sf of space.

Besides a 38-story tower topped by the office space, the Filene’s renovation will include residential condominiums, a hotel, 5.5 levels of below-grade parking and the return of Filene’s Basement, the iconic shopping store of Downtown Crossing. The store will be shuttered for a portion of the construction process. Vornado and Gale are proceeding quickly, having only closed on the asset in late January, paying an estimated $100 million.

Elkus/Manfredi Architects of Boston is designing the project, joining forces once again with Suffolk. The two firms were also involved in the mixed-use overhaul of the state=owned Saltonstall Building in Government Center, a $100 million expansion that yielded new office space, retail and 63 residential units. Boston-based Suffolk is celebrating 25 years in business, including a portfolio of work throughout Boston, with other recent office-focused assignments including the new ManuLife Financial headquarters in the Seaport District, 303 Congress St. and 131 Dartmouth St. in the city’s Back Bay.

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