The Millennium Tower Is Boston’s Future—And Certainly Not Mine

For the vast majority of those who live here, the third-tallest building in Boston will be a nagging reminder of what’s hopelessly out of reach.

Walking across the Longfellow Bridge from Central Square to Back Bay at night, the brightest structure on either side of the Charles River is the nearly completed Millennium Tower, though it is doubtful the building’s evening glow will be as ostentatious once its industrial work lights are plucked from its beams. At 60 stories and 685 feet, it will be the tallest residential building in Boston’s largely unremarkable skyline and third-tallest overall, behind “The Skyscraper Formerly Known as the Hancock Tower” and the Pru.

Born under the auspices of the late Tom Menino and built by one-time Olympic ringleader John Fish’s Suffolk Construction, the Millennium Tower has been heralded as the “most important residential building in Boston since the Ritz-Carlton,” a name evoking comparable excess. As of last week’s topping-off ceremony, 90 percent of its units were sold following a series of deals worth hundreds of millions. To market the $37.5 million penthouse crowning the luxury high-rise, developers sent a drone up 685 feet, to help potential buyers wrap their well-coiffed noggins around just how spectacular their views of Boston would be.

Those inhabiting the Millennium Tower home will enjoy a litany of amenities: Chef Michael Mina’s new, closed-to-the-public restaurant, as well as a private dining service overseen by the James Beard Award-winning chef, including “cooking classes, video demonstrations from Mina, and a private screening room, where the chefs will prepare special ‘tailgate’ menus on game days”; a tailored personal training program; round-the-clock concierge; and of course, valet parking.

There was a time when the erection of a skyscraper was a reason for intense civic pride. It meant the city was growing, business was booming, and everything pulsed to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was a symbol, wrought from steel and glass, of prosperity and strength. The structure would be a new landmark—something new to emblazon on postcards and T-shirts, to include in your directions to ambling tourists, to see from a distance, forehead pressed against a bus window and think, “I’m back home.” If a city’s skyline is a metonym for its identity, any new addition must advance its character without subverting it.

The Millennium Tower, in this sense, is a failure.

It is a monument to Boston’s future, and it’s chilling. At once, the Millennium Tower is both soulless and unattainable. Its topping-off ceremony, attended by Mayor Marty Walsh, came at a time when the city is careening toward a housing crisis. Its middle class is vanishing. Rents are surging and wages are stagnant. Boston has more luxury housing than it knows what to do with, yet a majority of the 2,600 units to be built before the year’s end will be marketed to the city’s best-off. Meanwhile, our public transportation system—the means by which many of us commoners arrive at our humble nine-to-fives—lay in disrepair, rotting in the ground below.

How on Earth, in my shared garden apartment and journalist’s salary, am I supposed to be enthused about the Millennium Tower—appropriately named, as it will take a millennium or two before I can afford the “high-gloss Poggenpohl cabinets and a 30-inch wine cooler” featured in one of its model kitchens? What civic pride can I take in all its preparations of wagyu beef, offered only to those with a dispensable $850,000 or more?

From 685 feet in the sky, the problems weighing down us ants lose their gravity.

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Photo by Kyle Clauss

The Millennium Tower has this ineffable foreignness about it; the building doesn’t rise from the 19th century city below, so much as it scoffs at it from above. Perhaps this is because Millennium Partners, the building’s developer, are based in New York. (The Prudential Tower was developed by Boston Properties, and 200 Clarendon, by John Hancock Insurance.) When standing at the mouth of Newbury Street at Massachusetts Avenue, the tower is situated at the horizon line. It doesn’t serve as Newbury’s logical conclusion on its way up to the sky, but makes a crude reflecting pool of the historic thoroughfare.

Yet the Millennium Tower is already claiming to be “Boston’s most unique and iconic property.” Here, try this little experiment next time you’ve got a pen and a cocktail napkin: Ask someone to draw the Boston skyline. You’ll almost certainly get a blocky Pru, perhaps a jagged rhombus of a Hancock Tower. I’ll bet you every cent in my meager savings account they won’t draw the Millennium Tower, nor know what that is if you ask why they didn’t draw it. Chalk it up to marketing braggadoccio, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Bostonian truly excited about this thing.

When I look at Boston’s skyline 20 years from now, I will find no nostalgia. I will only see an enduring symbol of what drove me out.

  • John

    Kyle be glad you can move out. City workers are forced to live in the city, how do you think they feel?

  • Jon

    “How on Earth, in my shared garden apartment and journalist’s salary, am I supposed to be enthused about the Millennium Tower”

    Well, the fact that it filled a literal decade-old hole in the city’s urban center and paved the way for Boston’s first downtown supermarket (Roche Brothers- we can all afford to shop there), and the nation’s first Primark (affordable clothing) and adds more people to a neighborhood (Downtown Crossing) that was fairly under the weather in recent years. Nope. I can’t afford it. I can’t afford Beacon Hill or Back Bay and I don’t begrudge those places either.

  • Charlie

    I’m hopeful that even though Millennium Tower is most certainly luxury housing, that it takes demand off of our older housing stock from being converted to luxury as well, leaving it more affordable for everyone else. The worry, though, is that Millennium Tower will simply bring in more rich outsiders (increasing housing demand), rather than meeting existing demand.

    • John Q. Public

      Most of the people who’ll buy into Mil. will be multi-millionaires with condo in many cities, We’ll get no relief.

  • John Q. Public

    Another monstrous, monotonous tower defacing our city on a hill. A monument to undemocratic exclusivity in the cradle of liberty. Note to marketing people—there is nothing “iconic” about your glass rectangle.

  • Tim

    “How on Earth, in my shared garden apartment and journalist’s salary, am I supposed to be enthused about the Millennium Tower”

    You sound like a bitter piker.

  • Patrick The Tycoon

    While I understand where the author is coming from: seeing the city change from what it has been in recent decades, I cannot help but see what an immense chip on his shoulder he has. Are we supposed to feel sorry he chose his profession? Boston is an evolving city, most cities are these days. What this development is doing most of all is contributing to the revitalization of the grim and forgotten DTX. We have new restaurants+bars for you to spend your megar salary on, hotels, shops, grocery store, cafes that are all bringing a renewed personality to the area. Would anyone prefer a hole in the ground with the stench of urine in the area? or an economically strong revitalized neighborhood? I think we can all agree we feel sorry you cannot afford the area, however those of us who can afford Boston are welcoming of the progression. We could be Detroit if it was not for all this industry, international students and medicine Boston has to offer.

    • John Q. Public

      Forgive my bluntness Patrick, but the “either or” argument is as specious as always. How many expensive bars and restaurants can one city support? What good are hotels to people who live in the city? Not all of us forgot downtown (as we called it long before the Downtown Crossing/DTX moniker was applied to it). Growth is fine, but uncontrolled growth is a cancer which kills the host.
      The city & BRA need to focus on retaining what makes this city so livable-a thriving middle class before it is driven out.

      • Bob Dob

        The middle class driven out? Eh, it’s just a return to the natural state of affairs throughout human history, up to WWI/WWII, when there were a few people with the money and power and the rest of us in steerage. The rich were nice enough to let a few regular people into their spheres for fighting in the great wars, and now they are re-consolidating.

  • Shirley Márquez Dúlcey

    I’m excited by the fact that other parts of the site are finally getting redeveloped, and that a supermarket has opened in Downtown Crossing. (Yes it’s an expensive yuppie supermarket but it’s much better than nothing.) In the current environment, putting up a playground for the rich is the price that we had to pay for that. Perhaps with the former Filene’s site finally lighting up we will also see some of the other retail vacancies disappear, like the long-empty store that used to be Barnes & Noble.

  • ebviewer

    No matter how much they pay, the residents will still be in Downtown Crossing. No thanks.

  • David Rego

    It is a tale… full of sound and fury
    Signifying nothing.

  • Bob Dob

    What a quaint notion, that a large building is being built for “the people.” The project was, is and always will be about the money – money for the landlord, money for the builder, etc.

    Hey, at least when the masses rise up, they’ll know which Bastille to storm.

  • Mumbles

    Every time the Boston media crows about a tacky-but-expensive restaurant opening (remember the brouhaha about “Strip by Strega”?) or a new high-end store (like the Hermes opening last week that got a lot of coverage in the dailies) and a new Soul Cycle, this is the kind of soulless consumerism that they’re celebrating.

    What makes Boston great is its intellectual and artistic vibrancy, not soulless hedge funds. The Boston 2024 idiots tried to make us insecure about Boston not being ” world class” in their attempt to make us sign up for their snake oil. (Not for nothing was Fish involved in that mess and the project described in this article.) If “world class” is defined solely on financial metrics we will never beat New York, London, or Dubai. We should instead celebrate what does make us great – creativity, intellectual curiosity and rigor, the arts, medical and scientific innovations. And to do that, we need to ensure that people who do these things can afford to live here.

  • tom

    This guy sounds bitter. Maybe he should get into a line a work that pays more… but that might take actual effort.

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  • http://iwpchi.wordpress.com/ IWPCHI

    What’s with the fatalism about the gentrification of the city of Boston – now in its umpteenth decade? You write as if the future had already been written, and as if the hundreds of millions of working-class citizens of the US are “powerless” to do anything to stop the 10% from driving us all into abject poverty!
    “For brave men, there is always a remedy for oppression” said Frederick Douglass, whose generation drove the slaveholding class into the history books – something that was considered to be quite impossible in Douglass’ youth. The working class can and we must do it again, this time to the capitalist class, which simply has no use for us workers any more. They have no intention of ever hiring us to work for them; if they do, they have no intention of paying us a decent living wage; this is why they are cutting funding for the public schools – why educate workers you’ll never hire anyway? We do not doubt for a second that as it becomes cost-effective for them to replace us all with robots (which is going to happen a lot sooner than you may think)… they will. All they care about is money.
    But this dystopian capitalist future is not a fait accompli; the working people who make up the VAST majority of the population need to organize new political parties of, by, and for the working class in order to get rid of this disgusting greed-addled capitalist system and replace it with an egalitarian, democratic socialist system. Wringing your hands and moaning about your poverty and how the rich don’t care about you isn’t going to change anything. So let’s wake up working-class sisters and brothers and get organizing before Google’s self-driving vehicles throw another 20 million people out of work permanently!
    Workers of the World, Unite!
    Independent Workers Party of Chicago (yes you can create one in Boston, too!)