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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

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.

Officials name Artery surface planner

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 02/03/2000

A master planner has been selected to help shape the last great piece of real estate in downtown Boston -- the surface of the depressed Central Artery, currently occupied by the hulking elevated highway that will be dismantled starting in 2005.

SMWM, a San Francisco-based urban design group, was chosen along with partners The Cecil Group of Boston and The Halvorson Co., a landscape architect also based in Boston.

SMWM has been active in planning redevelopment of waterfront areas in San Francisco as well as the Presidio site in that city, which is being converted from a military facility. The company also designed Post Office Square, the park built over an underground parking garage in the heart of downtown.

The master-planning team will solicit community input on what should be built on the 27-acre corridor, which will be 75 percent open space and 25 percent development. Ideas include skating rinks, recreational parks, landscaping, retail shops, restaurants, museums, and botanical gardens.

"They will find out what people like and what they don't like, and by the end of the year we'll have some designs and drawings that go beyond the benches, the lighting, and the brick walkways we have now," said James J. Kerasiotes, who as chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is in charge of the Big Dig.

The team bested five other finalists and was chosen by a committee of city and state officials as well as business and park advocates. That committee will now become a steering committee to guide the project, Kerasiotes said.

The Big Dig's plans for public art installations at several key points along the corridor will be incorporated into the master-planning process, Kerasiotes said.

At the same time, the Big Dig is soliciting interest from developers for two parcels along the corridor where ramps to the underground roadway will sprout up. Those parcels are in front of the Dock Square garage by Faneuil Hall Marketplace and at the foot of the Government Center garage, farther north.

"We're going to continue to push the ball forward," said Kerasiotes, who was eager to talk yesterday about the glossy final product of the Big Dig, after revelations that the project will cost $1.4 billion more than expected.

Kerasiotes noted that because of the strong economy and soaring real estate values along the corridor, the project expects to reap greater revenues than expected on parcels set aside for private development.

"We're not going to deviate from the 75-25 [ratio], but every one of the parcels that do have development on them have far greater potential today," he said.

Planning for the restoration of the Central Artery surface has been contentious over the last several months, with Kerasiotes and Mayor Thomas M. Menino battling for the responsibility of leading the project. The scope of the project, as well as who will pay for it, is at issue.

Last month, a new task force named by Menino met for the first time to steer final plans for the surface. The Legislature has yet to form its own commission to oversee the project.

Kerasiotes said the master-planner steering committee is logically the best group to provide direction on the project, working in coordination with the mayor's task force.

"We are prepared to assist the mayor in any way he wishes in terms of providing information. To the extent the mayor has issues and preferences and ideas, we would hope they would be expressed through his representative on the steering committee," Kerasiotes said.

"When the Legislature acts, whatever body they create we will respond to it," he added. "But in the meantime, we're going to continue to advance the project."

City officials, citing extensive planning for the corridor already done by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, want more of a say in what the strip of open space will look like. They also want to make sure the corridor will be the best urban landscape it can be, and have teamed up with private landowners abutting the corridor to help defray costs.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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