What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.
City makes move on artery restorationSeeking action, new task force meets
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 1/25/2000
City Hall is back in the driver's seat on the restoration of the Central Artery surface -- at least for now.
The latest commission to help plan the surface -- a 27-acre corridor of breathtaking possibilities for parks and buildings, occupying the strip where the elevated highway now stands -- met for the first time last week.Frustrated by inaction at the state Legislature, which has yet to form its own commission to guide surface restoration, and by an ongoing turf battle with Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman James J. Kerasiotes for control of the process, Mayor Thomas M. Menino unilaterally formed his own task force late last year.
The first meeting of that group, titled Project Completion Task Force, convened last Thursday. Menino's chief of staff, James E. Rooney, a former turnpike executive chairs the new panel.
Because the Legislature is still forming its own commission, and the Turnpike Authority is leading a paralell process to choose a master planner for surface restoration, there was some speculation that Menino's group would be viewed as a superfluous extra layer of planning.
But the major stakeholders all showed up for the first meeting, except representatives for Governor Paul Cellucci, who were busy with the State of the State address.
Fred Yalouris, director of architecture and urban planning for the Big Dig, served as Kerasiotes' representative. Representatives from community groups, pedestrian and open-space advocates, and representatives from the state Legislature also attended.
"We are more than happy to provide technical support and to be their resource on the central corridor issues," said Big Dig spokesman Jeremy Crockford.
"Obviously we'll need to do some mission-defining, depending on what the turnpike does and what the Legislature does -- not to make it antagonistic but to make it complementary. But the consensus was the mayor's group was the most broad-based," Rooney said.
Planning for surface restoration -- perhaps the city's greatest urban planning opportunity, thanks to the $11 billion suppression of Interstate 93 through the heart of downtown Boston -- grew contentious late last year, as city and state officials bickered over the future of the space.
Kerasiotes, saying the state owned the land and was responsible for surface work, took charge of the process in the fall by suggesting the hiring of a master planner. But Menino sought greater control over the process, and said the corridor needed special -- and more costly -- redevelopment, rather than just trees, lawns, and sidewalks.
On the chief issue of financing, the mayor has supported public-private partnerships where abutters chip in for maintenance of parks and amenities on the surface. But there are several unresolved issues concerning what should be built on the surface, and where -- in front of Rowes Wharf, for example, or between Faneuil Hall marketplace and the Aquarium.
The present elevated structure is set to be dismantled starting in 2005, so the decisions made this year are seen as critical.
Rooney said that at the meeting, Central Artery specialist Richard Garver from the Boston Redevelopment Authority "walked everyone through from one end of the corridor to the other," noting the parcels set for modest development and those set for parks.
Most development is eyed at the north and south ends of the corridor, close to the transportation hubs of North Station and South Station, respectively. But some parcels in between are problematic, especially where ramps from the underground tunnel emerge.
Agreements between state officials and environmentalists call for the corridor to be 75 percent open space and 25 percent development.
It is unclear whether the mayor's task force will make any specific recommendations, but the group is scheduled to meet again Thursday.