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BOSTON-The Boston Redevelopment Authority is approving a series of projects throughout the greater metropolitan area here. Suffolk University, Simmons College and 157 Washington St. are given permission to proceed with their renovations and building projects, while the city of Boston picks a planning consultant for the Allston-Brighton Community Wide plan and a company to operate a heliport.

The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University will move forward with an interior renovation, while trying to maintain its façade on Washington Street. The theater will be fitted with a studio theater, art gallery and 5,200 sf of support space. The university is also planning to put a 12-story, 47,000-sf student residence hall above the theater, which will be connected to 10 West St., a 274-student residence hall that was opened in early January above a restaurant and coffee shop. Suffolk will also build a 112,800-sf academic building for the New England School of Art and Design. The structure will be built at 20 Somerset St. after the university razes the existing building, replacing it with classrooms, studios, laboratories, offices, and gallery and exhibit spaces–under one roof–strictly for academic use. Both the Modern Theatre and 20 Somerset St. projects are under the university’s Institutional Master Plan which is being approved by the BRA Board. Estimated budgets could not be obtained for these redevelopments by deadline.

Simmons College is also expanding space with approval from the BRA Board. The college will add 5,898 sf to their dining hall for an estimated $6 million. The new space–at 300 Fenway–will provide the college an opportunity to renovate its existing kitchen and create capacity for a growing student population.

The BRA Board is taking another institutional master plan into consideration by approving The Cecil Group Inc. as a consultant for the Allston-Brighton Community Wide Plan. The CWP is specifically for the North Allston-Brighton neighborhood and intends to revamp the existing 2005 North Allston Strategic Framework for Planning, which provides information to help the BRA address and direct general real estate growth and development in the neighborhood. As developments progressed in the neighborhood, which includes the Harvard Institutional Master Plan and the Charles View Project–an interfaith low-income housing project–the community asked to review and re-evaluate the NASFP, which was finalized in 2005. The re-evaluation will make sure that the community of Allston-Brighton will have a clear “roadmap” and action plan, including a broad neighborhood context for Harvard’s on-going master plan. The planning contract will be $250,000 and funded by the BRA with partial assistance by Harvard though a $100,000 planning study grant.

Dorchester is setting its sights on the planned 157 Washington St. project, which will provide 24 affordable co-op units in place of a vacant commercial building. Now with approval, the existing structure will be knocked-down and a 25,427-sf mixed-use development will be erected on the 30,000-sf property. The building is being developed by the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation and is estimated to finish construction in 2009 at a cost of $9 million. The units are scheduled for occupancy by mid-year 2010.

Boston also has plans for a new heliport and the BRA is granting tentative designation to the Trenk Family LLC for its Air Pegaus operation to explore the proposition. The current plan calls for a heliport to be placed on Parcel C-2 of the Boston Marine Industrial Park on the South Boston waterfront. Ideally, the heliport will be used for tourism, medical flights, the film and movie industry and additional transportation options for some of the city’s employers. There are currently no alternate sites for the heliport, as the company undergoes a community review process to consider flights per day and routes, types and sizes of helicopters, sound levels, required permits and operational safety.

The property in the BMIP was used temporarily for this purpose during the 2004 Democratic convention held in Boston, which played into its site selection process, according to the city. Boston previously had a public heliport on the South Boston waterfront that was closed in 1999 for the construction of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Air Pegasus operates the Air Pegasus heliport in New York City, as well as tour services in Boulder City, CO; Las Vegas; and St. Louis.

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