Lofts to Talk About

Catching up with the ongoing renewal of Fort Point.

Lofts to Talk About

Illustration by Dylan Clouse/Cyclone Design

Before the recent economic troubles presented themselves, optimistic Bostonians fully expected Fort Point to bust out as the South End’s edgier cousin — its brick-and-beam-loft dwellers were sure to fast-track an array of exciting retail ventures, not to mention a vibrant, gritty-glam nightlife scene. But just because Fort Point isn’t yet a replica of New York’s Tribeca doesn’t mean it’s DOA. “We’re all disappointed that the economic scene didn’t allow quick development,” says Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association. “On the other hand, anytime something new opens, it’s huge.”

In fact, much is percolating in Fort Point. The city of Boston has 41 million square feet of development now under review, approved, or in construction, and 42 percent of that real estate is located here. And artsy it may stay, thanks to a few key players who are keeping prices down in order to lure cool kids to the channel. Case in point: this month’s opening of chichi Louis Boston on Fan Pier. It wouldn’t have happened without developer Joe Fallon, overlord of 21 precious waterfront acres, who made a sweetheart deal with owner Debi Greenberg to woo her away from Newbury Street and other prospective locations by promising a tailor-made, albeit “temporary,” new building. (Fallon’s master plan shows a residential tower on that site — presumably Louis’s permanent home will anchor the lower floors once it’s built.) With Louis Boston in place, the upper crust can browse modern art at the nearby ICA (free on Thursday evenings), then treat themselves to an appointment at Salon Mario Russo after perusing the racks.

Meanwhile, Young Park of Berkeley Investments made sure his recently completed FP3 condo project on Congress Street offers plenty of lower-priced studio units to attract members of the creative class. The building is expected to win FHA approval shortly, meaning buyers will be able to finance these units with government-backed loans up to $523,750 with only 3.5 percent down. It was also Park who lured chef-restaurateur Barbara Lynch to Fort Point with a great bargain on space for Sportello, Drink, and her new upscale restaurant Menton, opening later this spring. Similarly, Park coaxed Joanne Chang to start up a branch of her bakery, Flour, on Farnsworth Street in 2007.

Although developer Tony Goldman, who has a portfolio of nine buildings on Melcher and A streets, is occasionally demonized for displacing Fort Point’s artist population, he’s making good by offering “boutique office space” at $20 per square foot. It’s not class-A space (Ropes & Gray won’t be relocating here anytime soon), but the elevators work, and the lobbies are graffiti-free. Once designers, software startups, architects, and retailers set up offices here, Goldman plans to develop a hip residential component to match, the first piece of which will be a 180-foot tower at 319 A Street Rear, now in the approval process. And as the ranks of the local population swell, expect to see more restaurants like Barlow’s, which opened on A Street in January, serving up midprice fare for neighborhood residents, the lunch crowd, and commuters using the Boston Harbor Water Taxi.

“It’s a seven-to-10-year cycle,” says Albert Price, managing director of Goldman Properties. “Fix up the buildings to get the creative businesses in, develop retail at the ground level, and residential will follow.”