By Ashley Barquin and Helen Luo
BU News Service
Plans for the transformation of 907 Main St. – home to Toscanini’s Ice Cream, Cinderella’s Restaurant, and Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room – took a step forward on Oct. 3 when the Cambridge Planning Board approved some construction amendments at a public hearing.
Last year, Patrick W. Barrett III, owner of PW Realty, proposed renovating the four-story building into a boutique hotel. It will include a lobby and retail space on the ground floor, provide service areas in the basement, and create a fifth-floor addition with a rooftop bar. The parking behind the building will become an outside courtyard.
Barrett applied for special building permits in prior hearings in February and March 2017 to allow for an exemption of basement area from the calculation of gross floor area, to waive five required parking spaces and to increase the building’s height, all of which the Planning Board approved at the Oct. 3 meeting.
“The project really took on a life of its own,” Barrett said at the public hearing when presenting the updated designs. After partnering with a new design firm, Gensler, Barrett changed many interior designs and logistical aspects of his project.
Aside from slightly altered floor-plans, the boutique hotel will have 67 rooms instead of 58.
There will also be a partially enclosed bar on the fifth floor that will raise the building’s height from 55 feet to 59.5 feet. The additional increase in height is to accommodate lighting and sound systems, Barrett said. Changes were in response to potential noise complaints from residents in the area.
Members of the Cambridge community who attended the meeting voiced both concerns and support for the project.
“Evolve or die,” said Kiril Alexandrov, the owner of the Big Skinny. “We are a nation that is constantly trying to improve ourselves and this is what is happening with this project. This has got real flair, style, pizzazz.”
“It has the elements of the intellectual life and it has the inspirational life of being outside,” he added. “Then you have a courtyard where you can hang out and enjoy yourself. You’re not going to get that at one of these at one of these tower hotels.”
But Cambridge resident James Williamson expressed “a lingering concern, which is the loss of housing, residential units in the city.” He suggested including residential units with the project.
The issue was not addressed by the planning board at the hearing.
Central Square business owners and managers impacted by the building renovation contacted by reporters expressed both excitement and frustration. Business owners also expanded on the changes their services will undergo during the construction period.
Toscanini’s Ice Cream will remain open in its current location at 899 Main St. during and after reconstruction.
Toscanini’s Kitchen, located in a room behind the serving bar, will be relocated to Kendall Square in January and will later be part of the hotel’s lobby, but the lounge area of the well-known parlor will stay.
“We will stay here for many years,” said Gus Rancatore, one of Toscanini’s founders and owners. “We don’t want to leave. We’re a very busy and somewhat famous ice cream store.”
Rancatore said he views the hotel as a “small positive” for his parlor, but that he does not think it will increase business substantially. He added, however, that the hotel will generate concerns from residents and “represent the further gentrification of Cambridge and Central Square.”
“Right now, Cambridge overall is having a hard time balancing the problem of prosperity,” said Rancatore, who cofounded Toscanini’s in 1981. “Too many people with too much money are kind of flooding the area and changing it in a way that makes people nervous.”
Rancatore said he disagrees with them and thinks the hotel will provide employment opportunities.
“It will create some jobs, many of which are entry level jobs, but more jobs for people with foreign language skills because it will probably attract some foreign customers,” Rancatore said.
Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room owners, despite temporarily shutting down their restaurant after Oct. 28 for six to eight months, expressed similar optimism to welcoming change.
“We’re going out with a bang,” said Marc Shulman, chef and owner of the restaurant located on the ground floor of 907 Main St. “This is our busiest month in history… It’ll be the highest volume 30-day period we’ve ever had.”
The Dumpling Room will eventually relocate to an addition that will be constructed in the building’s current parking lot.
Shulman said the new location will be larger and include a bar. Shulman also said he and Patty Chen, the restaurant’s co-owner, plan on expanding their nightlife business beyond their take-out model when they return.
“We’re not going out at the bottom,” said Shulman. “We’re going out at the top and then we’ll come back strong. I feel like our clients will still be there and we’ll be expanding and changing.”
Some businesses, however, will not have the same opportunity to expand and grow after the building is renovated.
Cinderella’s Restaurant will close after Oct. 28. It’s delivery services will merge with Beauty’s Pizza, located at 187 Hampshire St.
The Italian dining room’s owner, Antonio Barros, said he is sad about the closing of his restaurant and worries about the future of small businesses in Cambridge because of the high rent.
“Basically, the small businesses in Cambridge are not going to exist in the future,” he said. “That’s something the politicians have to figure out. Only big chains are going to be able to move in.”
Demolition and constructions starts Monday, Oct. 9. Barrett plans on opening the boutique hotel in the spring of 2019.
To learn more about the project, go to: http://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/zoninganddevelopment/specialpermits/specialpermits#sp324
This article first appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle as part of a collaboration between the Chronicle and the BU News Service.