They’re Finally Filling in the Filene’s Hole in Downtown Crossing

Workers will spend the entire weekend putting concrete into the empty spot that marks the district.

This weekend, 600 trucks from Suffolk Construction will perform a 6,000 cubic-yard continuous mat slab concrete pour into one of Boston’s most notorious landmarks: the deep, desolate Filene’s hole cratered in the center of Downtown Crossing, which has been left vacant for years.

The filling of the massive gap that’s scarred the city’s bustling shopping destination marks a pivotal point in the changing landscape of an area that’s been marred by misconception. The concrete pour, which is expected to take 36 hours, is a starting point for a new wave of developments taking over the streetscape, forging a fresh path for the district. “We are definitely seeing the momentum of the renaissance of Downtown Crossing continue,” said Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Crossing Business Improvement District. “You can see the excitement that people have.”

Two years ago, Sansone sat on a panel of expert speakers, during an event hosted by Suffolk University, and listened in as they discussed ways they could “revitalize the heart of the Hub.” At the time, it seemed as though it would take a lot of work to draw people toward Downtown Crossing. But not long after that meeting, as developers started to push large projects through with some elbow grease from former mayor Tom Menino, others seemed to follow. “We are definitely moving in the right direction, and we are excited about some of the new startup companies that are moving here,” said Sansone. “But we are not where we need to be as far as work being completed.”

Adding the concrete to the Filene’s hole, which is part of the multi-million dollar Millennium Tower and Burnham Building development project, headed by Millennium Partners, is a significant step forward for Downtown Crossing. Once finished, the hole will be replaced with a 60-story glass tower that will rise 625-feet into the Boston skyline, and feature luxury residential condominiums and other retail space.

While the project is underway, the nearby Summer Street will be repaved.  Then in September, advertising firm Arnold Worldwide will move its headquarters to the Burnham Building, which is part of the redevelopment and sits adjacent to the hole. By 2015, a Roche Bros. grocery store and Primark clothing shop are slated to slip in just a few floors below them. Just recently, Downtown Crossing became home to a Legal Seafoods spin-off, called Legal Crossing, and a larger-than-normal Walgreens, as well.

“It’s a lot of stuff,” said Sansone.

But everyone seems ready. “This is the last obstacle before the rebirth of [Downtown Boston],” said Christopher Jeffries, founding partner of the company Millennium Partners, back in September. “I am confident it will become the top place for property and retail.”

Sansone said smaller initiatives have been slowly rolled out in recent weeks, including way-finding maps to make navigating Downtown Crossing easier for both longtime residents and first-time visitors. Patrols in the area have also been increased after two recent unprovoked assaults brought flashbacks of Downtown Crossing’s old neighborhood vibe to the public eye.

Sansone said she expects all of the changes will make the district—which already attracts hundreds of thousands of people due to its proximity to three major transit stops—a major destination location. “People can see the differences. They see that it’s much cleaner, and they can see that people are paying attention to it. Are we absolutely where we want to be at this point? No. It takes a long time for these things to become what they need to be,” she said. “But we have more development going on in this district than probably anywhere else in the city…there’s a lot happening here.”