Lalli Tower to be built in Acton

Governor Deval Patrick announced the newest public-works project to be funded under the little-used federal stimulus program, a large office-tower, retail-shopping-residential-commercial-industrial complex in Acton, Massachusetts.

Modeled after Chicago's "Sears Tower," the new project will be breaking ground within weeks.

"Acton is the perfect location for this shovel-ready investment project and it will bring a lot of high-paying jobs, both in construction and in workers who will have offices in the skyscraper," Patrick said at a news conference held at the I.B.E.W. union headquarters in Dorchester.

"Acton's new double-track commuter rail system will bring workers to the town who will be able to walk to the tower, or we may build a rail extension, depending on local bedrock, streams, waterways, and rivers," he said. "The final location for this project has yet to be determined, but we are working with local officials who seem very supportive of this project, or else," he said.

The "Willis Tower," as it is known in Chicago, will be called "Lalli Tower" in Acton, after a generous donation by the Steinberg-Lalli Trust. "We just need to move the plaque on the rock outside the home on Route 111," said the Trust's spokesman. "Or we might move the plaque from outside the home on Central Street. We haven't decided," he said. A public meeting will be held to get community input on this decision. "Another option is to just commission a third plaque."

It may be known colloquially as "K-Mart" tower. K-Mart is owned by Sears.

"This should greatly enhance Acton's tax base," said Acton's Acting Town Manager, Philomena Philodendrum. "It should provide some property-tax stability for Acton taxpayers, but that isn't guaranteed," she said, "God knows stopping Acton's property taxes from increasing has been an historic impossibility," she said. "See you at Acton Day!"


The Lalli Tower will be modeled after the Willis Tower, only slightly smaller. See the attached architects' photo renditions. NOTE: Photos not to scale. Here are some facts:

* Willis Tower contains approximately 4.56 million gross square feet and has a rentable area of 3.8 million square feet.
* 4.56 million gross square feet would cover 105 acres if spread across one level, or the equivalent of 16 city blocks in Chicago.
* Within the building, there are 25 miles of plumbing, 1,500 miles of electric wiring, 80 miles of elevator cable, and 145,000 light fixtures.
The building weighs more than 222,500 tons, and it cost more than $175 million to build.
* Each floor of the building is divided into 75-foot, column-free squares, or “mega-modules,” which provide maximum planning, flexibility and efficiency.
* Large windows provide maximum light and views, further enhanced by the corridors created by the tower’s set back on all sides.
* Only the finest materials are used throughout the buildings common areas to highlight the property’s prestige, such as the lobby’s walls of travertine highlighted with stainless steel trim, polished granite flooring, and decorative ceiling lighting.


Some have questioned the potential locations for this office tower complex, but the Megatower Building Committee (MBC) said they've already solved the problem.

"We looked at over 3,227 sites in Acton and have narrowed it down to two sites, and now we are looking for some community input. No other sites will be considered at this time. If you thought a better site was available, you should have been coming to our meetings over the past 36 months. We've worked hard to pare down the list and now you can choose Option A or Option B," said MBC Chair Pierre Aston.

"We've spent about $100,000 on architectural modeling and preliminary design work, but plan on going to Town Meeting in April for the balance due, or $1,256,250 thousand dollars," he said. "But don't worry, we can bond it. It will only cost the average Acton taxpayer a cup of coffee every 30 seconds."


The MBC Committee prefers Option A, which is why it is "A" and not "B," said Aston. "This is the large swampy conservation land on Central Street, near the cemetery. It is within walking distance of the train station," he added.

"The K-Mart Tower architect's rendering shows where the tower will be located, but of course it will be much larger than shown in the pictures. How much larger is going to be a surprise."

"Sort of like the 'surprise' Acton taxpayers got after all the 'savings' from school regionalization," he said.


This option, which is clearly inferior, is to put the Tower outside Blanchard Auditorium on the AB Regional School R.J. Grey campus. "This will give students, with a hall pass, additional dining options to escape the cafeteria and cut down on food waste," Aston said. "But we haven't gotten permission for citing yet from the School Committee, but I don't expect a problem."

The MBC Committee also preferred Option A because it wouldn't require an extension of the commuter rail along Main Street. "Those would also be good jobs, but not as good as these jobs," he said.

But Option B does have its supporters. "This would totally transform the Kelley's Corner area, which is one upside of Option B," said Kelley's Corner and Acton 20/20 Chair Lila Lilac. "And it fits in with the Master Plan for the area, which also justifies the $200,000 we've already spent on design work, although we will need to ask for more for the sixth phase of our Kelley's Corner study," she said.

"Plus Kelley's Corner is closer to K-Mart," she said. "We have calculated that when the sun sets, the Tower's shadow will actually plunge the K-Mart parking lot into darkness. That will be like a perpetual solar will be so cool," she said.

"People really wanted to transform Kelley's Corner and now we are doing just that," she said. "But just in case, the 20/20 committee voted to expand the definition of Kelley's Corner to include either site," she said.


When asked if the 110-story office tower would comply with local zoning, Acton's Building Commissioner said he wasn't sure because he hasn't read the code lately.

"We've issued preliminary approvals for the project but once they pour the foundation, we'll read the regulations, perhaps make a few notes, take more careful measurements, and see what we determine. Perhaps it will be six inches too close to the road, and that will earn us $300 per day in fines," he said, rubbing his hands briskly together.

The Selectmen were also asked for their preliminary approval, which they gave on a 3-0 vote with one abstention and one absence.

"Our only concern was parking, and you may not see this from the photos, but they will be tunneling down a couple hundred feet for underground parking, so we are quite satisfied," said one Board member, off the record. "No lawsuit is contemplated at this time."

"We had one other concern, but we asked a question and were satisfied with the answer," he said. "Acton residents will only pay $20 per day to park there within a 24-hour period. That will be written into the site approval plan."


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Reader Comment

As I read Allen's article, I was not sure whether I should laugh, cry, be
awed or just wait to see if I ever heard anything more about this. Then I got
to wondering.
Would the FAA allow anything of the height so close to Hanscom Field?
Would it earn Acton a place on the list of terrorist targets? We certainly
would not want that. Could the local roads and villages handle the increased
traffic at commuting time? These are serious concerns and much work would be
needed to resolve them. But so much for negativity.
Let us look at some of the benefits. Allen has already listed several,
particularly jobs and help for our tax base. I would like to consider what I
would call Option B-1.
Option B-1.
Have the footprint of the building actually cover Kelley's Corner. All the
businesses and other structures currently there to be moved into the new
building, fueling stations likely excepted.
This now allows a plan to be prepared that would actually eliminate the
intersection of the traffic by separating it onto two or more levels to
permit the easy flow of through traffic , especially at commuting times. I
envision the level we now have to be used for local traffic, a Rte 111 tunnel
and a Rte 27 tunnel for through traffic.

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.