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Beyond The Big Dig
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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.


Off dead center on the Surface Artery

By Thomas C. Palmer, Globe Staff, 3/10/2002

What a difference a decision makes.

The Mayor's Surface Artery Task force, God bless 'em, met weekly or biweekly most of last year, wrestling with the existential questions: Who would own the new Central Artery land? Oversee it? And, most difficult, pay millions a year to keep it beautiful?

Thursday morning, it was a more upbeat scene when the 30 or so members (recently expanded from about a dozen) gathered, the day after Mayor Thomas Menino had spoken.

He and House Speaker Tom Finneran -- in the audience, just in case there were doubters -- have agreed on the seemingly unresolvable questions of the Surface Artery land. The ones that have been kicked around for a decade. Previously, neither state nor city officials would yield control of the 30 acres. "We paid for it," said the state. "It's our downtown," said the city. It now appears that:

Menino traded away control of a five-person board of trustees, which will set policy and make sure money isn't wasted, for a commitment that the Legislature will tax downtown businesses to pay for maintenance of roughly $4 million a year.

The state maintains ownership of the land, even though the 1997 law that transferred responsibility for the Big Dig to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority assumed the Pike would keep it. Details aren't worked out, Boston Redevelopment Authority director and task force cochairman Mark Maloney assured everyone. The big remaining questions:

  • Will the Pike just roll over and give up control of the land -- even design and construction of the new parks?

  • Who will control the 13-member board of directors that will take policy direction from those five trustees appointed mostly by state officials?

  • What does this new organization mean for the half-dozen development parcels that will coexist with open space along the surface corridor?

And then there are the matters of implementation. Will the business community get to vote on being taxed to pay for Surface Artery maintenance? How much of a say will businesses get in the control of the space?

As the other task force chairman, Rob Tuchmann, said, "Clearly I have things up in the air." And yet most everyone seemed to feel lifted. Because last week, after so long, there was movement.

. . .
Perhaps the most surprising thing that came out of the forum "Downtown Crossing at a Crossroads" on Wednesday was Stoddard's owner David Marks's solution for securing an urban residential community: "Downtown Boston needs a supermarket, a fundamentally good place to buy groceries. I think you build on that."

. . .
In the Don't Complain When the Bulldozers Come Department: Almost no one showed up at two hearings last week on the Fan Pier development proposal, which includes 1.2 million square feet of offices and 2,300 underground parking spaces on the South Boston Waterfront.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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