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BU May Sell Kenmore Square Properties

Deal includes building with iconic Citgo sign

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As part of a four-decade-long effort to upgrade Kenmore Square, Boston University has hired a broker to manage the sale of several high-profile buildings it owns in the square, including the one that houses Barnes & Noble at BU and supports the iconic Citgo sign, which has loomed over the square since 1965.

Gary Nicksa, senior vice president for operations, says the University will work with Newmark Grubb Night Frank, known as Newmark, to sell the properties, which include 334,000 square feet of commercial space, now occupied by Barnes & Noble, Bertucci’s restaurant, Cornwall’s Pub, and several other tenants. The nine buildings that will be put on the market line the north side of Kenmore Square, from 648 Beacon Street to 541 Commonwealth Avenue and 11-19 Deerfield Street.

In August, the University invited four highly regarded firms to submit proposals describing how the properties could be put to best use for the neighborhood, and what they would be worth in today’s real estate market. Three firms, Newmark, Jones Lang LaSalle, and CB Richard Ellis submitted proposals, and the University selected Newmark, because its capital markets team “is very experienced in this type of placemaking opportunity,” Nicksa says. “We believe this sale will not just be of regional interest. We think it will attract national and international attention.”

Nicksa says the sale of the Kenmore Square properties is the latest of many strategic moves designed to encourage “positive city building” in Kenmore Square. Three years ago, BU sold the four-star Hotel Commonwealth, which the University built on a block on the south side of Kenmore Square that had been home to head shops and raucous bars.

“We want to promote development that makes Kenmore Square an even more vibrant part of the city and gateway to the BU campus,” says President Robert A. Brown. “That goal will be the guiding principle as we consider all the options available to us.”

Brown says the sale of the properties is an opportunity for Boston University to raise capital needed for investment in its core mission of teaching, research, and student services.

Robert Donahue, vice president for government and community affairs, says any development of Kenmore Square properties would be subject to approval by the city and the community. “The University will work in partnership with developers and with the community,” says Donahue. “We have a long history of cooperation with our Kenmore Square neighbors.”

According to Nicksa, the University has considered selling the properties several times in recent years, and the current climate of the Boston real estate market persuaded BU leadership to act now. “We feel the time may be right and the value may be good,” he says, adding that the value of the properties has increased significantly from several years ago.

All of the properties are considered noncore to the University’s mission, he says, and all but one are zoned for commercial use, and therefore not included in BU’s Institutional Master Plan.

37 Comments
Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

37 Comments on BU May Sell Kenmore Square Properties

  • A on 01.21.2016 at 7:37 am

    Maybe BU could use the funds to pay their grad students more than a pittance

  • Erin on 01.21.2016 at 9:14 am

    The Hotel Commonwealth replaced “head shops and raucous bars” in Kenmore? Wow. What slanted commentary. This article makes BU sound like it’s sold, and will sell, property in the Square for altruistic purposes rather than to make a profit in the “current climate of the Boston real estate market.”

    • Smarter Child on 01.21.2016 at 9:25 am

      I think its unfair not to give BU some credit for its long term investment in Kenmore Square.

    • TM on 01.21.2016 at 9:52 am

      I’d say Kenmore is the least bit “vibrant” as it’s ever been. An article written in these pages a while back demonstrated the charm and character of the square from previous years. By selling to the highest bidder, BU has welcomed chain stores and restaurants which are the least bit vibrant to the neighborhood. Face it, it’s become nothing more than a giant bus station and busy intersection where no one congregates unless it’s the baseball season.
      I say bring back the “head shops and raucous bars”.

      • Rubes on 01.21.2016 at 11:00 am

        Yeah! Bring back the Rat!

        • David on 01.22.2016 at 3:25 pm

          Hear Hear!

          • Jose Artigas on 01.22.2016 at 7:22 pm

            Yeah, bring back the Rat! For those who haven’t been around BU or Kenmore very long, it’s not just a a pesky rodent — it was a very popular bar-club-restaurant. Many good musical acts played there over the years. At least, I think they did. They say if you can’t remember, you must have had a good time ….

  • BUMom on 01.21.2016 at 9:25 am

    I like knowing that BU owns the building that houses the B&N bookstore. I love that the world-famous CITGO sign is on the side of a building that BU owns. The sign is more famous that the most famous Alum! Keep the building, keep the sign, make it your admissions center!

    • David on 01.22.2016 at 2:27 pm

      That sign is more famous than Martin Luther King Jr?

      • BUMom on 01.22.2016 at 6:53 pm

        Maybe. MLK is an American Civil Rights leader/hero and Nobel Peace Prize recipient,. American baseball is extremely popular around the world and with games televised and translated- that Citco sign is known around the world. It very well may be more (world) famous than MLK. We Americans celebrate MLK’s birthday one day a year. The Red Sox play at least 162 games a season- it makes the news, it’s discussed at the workplace, the dinner table, it’s on the tv, etc.. way more visible, popular, and commercialized. It’s the world we live in.

  • DV on 01.21.2016 at 9:47 am

    I’m not quite certain how Kenmore Army Navy, the Intl House of Pancakes, and a rape crisis hotline qualify as head shops or raucous bars, as those are what the Hotel Commonwealth replaced. The head shops and raucous bar(s) on the south side of Kenmore are still there, just a block east. Or maybe you mean the Rathskeller, which closed of its own accord in 97, enabling BU to start purchasing the properties on that side?

  • MB on 01.21.2016 at 10:00 am

    Ah, gentrification. Being veiled as academic progress for over a hundred and fifty years.

  • MW on 01.21.2016 at 11:35 am

    How about building some low cost housing for your students, BU? Plenty of student villages and expensive hotels going up.

  • Amanda Donovan on 01.21.2016 at 11:35 am

    Kenmore Square USED to be a vibrant center full of young artists and musicians doing interesting and creative things. I used to be one of them. The Rat, the Deli Haus, Planet Records, book stores and rape crisis hotlines and Nugets, housing for all kinds of people who lived and worked together in a community. Now it’s nothing more than a gentrified, sterilized pass-through to Brookline and BU, a bus stop that is occasionally overflowed with drunken Red Sox fans. There is no reason to go to Kenmore any longer. It’s not a destination. It’s an intersection. It’s been wiped off the map, and this is the coup de grace. Thanks for killing off my beautiful gritty creative city, BU. Thanks for throwing us all under the bus while you invest billions in more tacky glass and steel sky scrapers for foreign investors while most residents of the area can’t even afford to attend school there. You’re the worst and I hate you, jerks. Take it all, but I’ll always have the gravy fries at the Deli Haus after shopping at Planet Records all day and the music at the Rat and you’ll have nothing. Stupid jerks.

    • DownrightUpright on 01.21.2016 at 2:45 pm

      I am in 100% agreement. BU is a dull, beige lifeless corporate monster eating the real city bit by bit. Long live the Rat! Long live Deli Haus!

      • Jessica Lawrence on 01.22.2016 at 12:06 am

        Wow, so much hate! Typical Boston resident, LoL!

    • AP on 01.21.2016 at 4:48 pm

      Kenmore Square is definitely an area in transition, a bland pass-through with restaurants designed for BU staff and Red Sox fans. However, given that Kenmore Square was famous for being full of mentally unstable transients having violent episodes while strung out on drugs, I cannot see how a handful of chain restaurants is the lesser evil.

      Boring stability is a necessary step in improving a neighborhood: the neighborhood has to prove that it is capable of sustaining its improvements before anyone will be willing to invest in it long-term. BU stabilized the area: now, someone with a bigger vision can come in and feel confident spending the money to make it more vibrant again.

      • Amanda Donovan on 01.22.2016 at 10:30 am

        I can’t get through all of your weird sterilized marketing language to make any sense of what you’re saying. Clearly you never stepped foot in the area prior to 2000. I think you would be happier developing marketing materials for an upscale Olive Garden concept in the new Residences in the Lofts in the SoDoSoPa Arts District neighborhood.

    • Nadine Dolby on 01.21.2016 at 6:31 pm

      so true, and so sad. BU grad, and lived around Kenmore for many years–the Boston of my childhood and young adulthood seems to be gone, and that is a loss for all of us.

    • Jessica Lawrence on 01.22.2016 at 12:07 am

      The buildings BU is selling are zoned COMMERCIAL, not housing/residential. Don’t like it? Complain to the City and its zoning board.

    • David on 01.22.2016 at 2:32 pm

      Are you blaming BU for Boston being gentrified? Because that wasn’t limited to Kenmore. Or are you blaming BU for the death of record stores (after the rise of digital media) and the failure of Phoenix Media to stay afloat? Or the Rat going under, which happened before BU bought that land?

      Or are you upset that BU now might NOT own it? I get your anger, I don’t get your choice of target.

    • David on 01.22.2016 at 3:41 pm

      I’m a conservative and I agree with you 100% as well. In some cases, gentrification makes sense… dangerous neighborhoods with bad drug problems, rapes, murders, etc… but Kenmore Square and Central Square were special places where young people could go and celebrate, party, meet different people (very different people) and experience something outside of the consumer driven society you see in Copley or the touristy areas. When I was in college here in the mid-late 1980’s, Boston had one of the best local music scenes in the country. It’s pretty much dead now. I don’t blame BU for all this but it all seems to be related to how we’ve moved away from each other as a society. Young people need to interact with each other over drinks and loud music and talk about their dreams and aspirations, not text each other in some kind of masturbatory consumer driven orgy of spending and vapidity…

    • Jose Artigas on 01.22.2016 at 7:31 pm

      I’m with Amanda, Downright & Nadine. Pres. Brown’s fine faux-altruistic words are a smokescreen for profit maximization. The university-as-luxury-landlord perverts its official mission & makes a joke out of nonprofit status. Maybe a degree of sleaze in the neighborhood is unavoidable when the area has some actual character.

      “Gentrification” no longer does, ahem, justice to the processes turning dynamic, distinctive cities & neighborhoods into playgrounds &, more insidious, investment opportunities for the 1%. But when it happens one property at a time, it’s much harder to arrest the process.

  • Catherine Caldwell-Harris on 01.21.2016 at 11:44 am

    The buildings on the north side of Kenmore Square aren’t dilapidated. What is envisioned to replace them to make the square more vibrant?

  • Lisa Marie on 01.21.2016 at 2:00 pm

    What an embarrassing and slanted article. As an alum, I’ve been deeply disappointed to watch BU wipe the character from Kenmore Square, replacing local bars and record stores with chain restaurants. At this point, the neighborhood doesn’t offer anything diverse, vibrant, or inviting for students or locals. It’s nothing more than a pass through for out-of-town Sox fans. You’d think that a world-class urban university would have a better understanding of gentrification and its consequences and would have been more thoughtful in its approach.
    Of course, if BU were to use the proceeds from these high-priced real estate sales to build more affordable student housing (an alternative to StuVi for students from lower and middle class backgrounds is clearly much-needed), alumni and the local community would be much more supportive. Unfortunately BU’s administration seems to have other priorities (and I have worthier organizations to donate to each year).

  • Steven on 01.21.2016 at 3:14 pm

    I echo many of the above comments. While the transformation of Kenmore Square was already complete by the time I went to BU, I can sympathize with those who miss the old Square. This is a textbook case of excess gentrification – the character and uniqueness of a neighborhood sterilized to accommodate tourists and overly protective suburban parents.

  • Deb on 01.21.2016 at 3:54 pm

    I was a student in the early 70’s and worked one summer at Deli-Haus. Kenmore square had character and the “singing bum” but it didn’t have any of the corporate entities that do business there today. Yes,Kenmore Square was a destination – Citgo sign and all!

  • BU Alum on 01.21.2016 at 9:48 pm

    BU real estate strikes again. As an alum of the university, I was disappointed to learn that they ended their relationship with the Tony Award winning Huntington Theatre Company and decided to sell the properties off to make a profit rather than work with the company to assist them in keeping their home so that they could continue to produce theatre. Not to mention the amazing opportunities BU students had to work alongside professional theatre artists, gaining real world experience. All of that will sadly end. Now BU will sell off more of its property to make more money to supposedly support their mission, potentially risking the future of an iconic Kenmore landmark. Let’s hope that the CITGO sign is on a historic registry because, sadly, the BU Theatre on Huntington Avenue is not. So if sold to the wrong person, it could be bulldozed and made into condos or retail property. Disappointing.

    • Jose Artigas on 01.22.2016 at 7:36 pm

      I believe the Citgo sign has some measure of historic preservation. A few decades ago BU Prez John Silber, who hated the sign, tried to have it removed, spurring a historic designation that preserved it. It’s still the clearest indication on TV that a home run has left Fenway Park — preferably hit by one of our players. Go Sox!

  • Margaret Tung on 01.22.2016 at 10:42 am

    BU Should keep Kenmore Square Buildings for future generations. It is the heart of the city and BU. It is a very big and good location property. BU is a science research University it should build life science Research with this building. if BU do not has other big building like this near Boston medical hospital. BU students mom.

  • Kat on 01.22.2016 at 11:00 am

    are any of the buildings LEED certified?

  • Marty on 01.22.2016 at 11:42 am

    A statue of Butch(was that his name?) the air guitar dude who hung out there for years.

  • Another annoyed student on 01.22.2016 at 1:02 pm

    I wasn’t here when so many alums say the place was amazing and vibrant, but I know enough to know this article is a load of BS. Honestly, this is reminding me of the South Park episode about Sodosopa. BU wants to convince people they’re improving the area by selling it to expensive national chains and foreign investors, while uprooting local business and pocketing the profits. Nobody is fooled. I hope you fancy Newmark advisor takes into account the loss in value due to how much the community hates what you’ve done, BU.

  • Lei Wang on 01.28.2016 at 8:51 pm

    Really, don’t sell it. When we lose control on these building, Kenmore just a T-connection place with more non-university buddies around. It just brought the community secure level down.

  • John Montesanti on 03.21.2016 at 6:08 pm

    Bring back “Lucifers”

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