Traffic of prospective buyers is brisk at 25 Beacon Street.
In the meantime, a steady parade of prospective buyers is filing through the UUA’s historic headquarters at 25 Beacon Street, beside the Massachusetts State House, along with the UUA’s other properties on Beacon Hill. Those include a six-story office building at 41 Mt. Vernon Street, headquarters of Beacon Press, and the Pickett and Eliot guesthouses, two adjacent townhouses on Mount Vernon Place.
Bids on the properties will be accepted through mid-October, according to the Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s chief operating officer. Limpert said he expects the UUA to decide on a buyer or buyers for the properties during November and will sign papers on the deal in December.
Given Boston’s surging commercial real estate market, the bids are higher than the UUA had anticipated, Limpert said, declining to reveal the range of the bids received so far.
To build out the new property at 24 Farnsworth Street, the UUA has retained architecture firm Goody Clancy to design the space’s interior.
“Designing a new headquarters environment provides the opportunity to align the physical work space with the creative spirit of the UUA staff,” said Goody Clancy Principal Jean Carroon in a statement. “The design will emphasize flexible spaces for collaboration, open floor plans, and healthy, daylit surroundings designed to be warm and welcoming for employees and visitors.”
In late August, the UUA Board of Trustees met in executive session and voted to increase the amount of money allotted for the build out of the new space. The added money will allow for more modern technology in the buildings’ conference rooms. It will fund the addition of interior stairwells to increase communication among UUA staff, who will occupy three of the building’s six floors. (The top three floors are leased to other tenants.) And it will allow several load-bearing columns that are currently in what will become the chapel space to be eliminated with the addition of new beams.
The new headquarters will include a first-floor “Heritage and Vision Center.” The center will feature displays that present the history of the UUA, its role in larger cultural movements, and the relationship between the UUA and its congregations and partner groups. The center will include historical objects as well as digital displays that are integrated with social networking sites and mobile devices. “We want the Heritage Center to be a place where people from all over the country—not just UUs—can come to learn about our history and our vision for the future,” said Limpert.
In addition to the Heritage Center, Limpert said he is excited by several elements in the new building. He said a planned multipurpose room will be a “very comfortable space for youth groups.” And the new chapel will be a “lovely space designed to reflect and represent the Seven Principles of the UUA.”
The loss of the Pickett and Eliot guesthouses will be a major change for volunteers and other visitors to the UUA, who have stayed in the cozy, bed-and-breakfast style townhomes behind 25 Beacon Street.
To accommodate out-of-town guests, the UUA has contracted with Club Quarters, a chain of membership hotels, to provide lodging. The Boston Club Quarters is located in the Financial District at 161 Devonshire Street, about a half-mile walk from 24 Farnsworth Street.
Groups can continue to reserve rooms at Pickett and Eliot through June 2014, according to Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and Conference Services. After that, rooms should be reserved at Club Quarters.
Rates for the Club Quarters’ rooms are about $154 per night. Comparable downtown hotels charge about $250 a night, Sneegas said, adding that UUA travelers can also use the Club Quarters membership in other cities with Club Quarters properties, including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.
In March, the UUA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to purchase 24 Farnsworth Street and to sell the UUA’s four buildings on Beacon Hill. 24 Farnsworth Street is a six-story, 75,000-square-foot, brick-and-beam building. The UUA began lease payments on the property on September 1, 2013; it will have the option to buy the building January 1, 2015.
Illustration (above): The architectural firm Goody Clancy created this conceptual rendering of the chapel space on the second floor of 24 Farnsworth Street as part of the design process for the new headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association (courtesy Goody Clancy).
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Michelle Bates Deakin, a member of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Massachusetts, was a UU World contributing editor from 2006 to 2011 and a UU World senior editor from 2011 to 2014. She is the author of Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who Are Changing the World (Skinner House, 2011) and Gay Marriage, Real Life: 10 Stories of Love and Family (Skinner House, 2006).