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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.

Another idea for the Artery's open space

By Thomas Palmer, Globe Staff, 3/24/2002

A little progress is magnetic.

This month, following years of inaction, Mayor Tom Menino and House Speaker Tom Finneran broke the logjam on a major issue concerning the future of the Surface Artery -- the 30 acres of land to be reclaimed when the Central Artery is finally buried, in 2005.

They proposed creating a nonprofit entity to run it and levying a small tax on downtown businesses to keep it spiffy.

Last week, those who watch for even the tiniest signs of progress were further encouraged. Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob Durand suggested there is a way to protect the open, or public, space.

"I don't believe Tom Menino wants to see these spaces privatized," he said. "One of the things we could explore is the use of a conservation restriction on these lands." That would prohibit development for decades.

Once the big questions about ownership and control and financing are out of the way, and the open space is secure, then attention will turn to the half-dozen or so development parcels.

A couple are atop highway ramps, and construction will be tricky and expensive. But there are prime parcels for medium-height buildings, and in time the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will seek proposals.

The other "tidbit" of interest, as Central Artery Oversight Committee chairman Rob Tuchmann put it, was word from the turnpike that there will be an endowment of some kind to help create a fund for long-term maintenance. With all the turmoil and financial uncertainty at the Pike, that hadn't been mentioned for months, and many worried that the promise had been withdrawn. "The endowment is still on the table," said new turnpike chairman Matt Amorello. "And if it's part of the city plan to help the parks go forward, the MTA wants to be part of that." Yippee! was the reaction.

As to the always confusing question of ownership of the land -- it's still confusing. One handout at the meeting said, "The open space lands will be owned by the commonwealth ... " Amorello said his understanding is they will be transferred to the turnpike authority.

Menino has taken a strong position that it should be the city's land.

Meanwhile, the severity of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's financial problems tumbled out last week in an article by the Globe's Geoff Edgers. The organization has a $2 million loan plus other debts and started the year with a big operating deficit; five of 17 board members have resigned.

Chief executive John Peterson is faced with raising $70 million if he wants to take advantage of the three prime parcels of land near South Station that were donated to the society as part of the Big Dig's environmental commitment 12 years ago.

Menino said the city is partnering with Mass. Hort. The problem with that is that neither has any money. Boston wants a "park improvement district" and seems to have Finneran's blessing to tax downtown businesses. Mass. Hort is taking a fill-the-gap strategy of generating temporary activity on its land, between Summer Street and the new Northern Avenue Bridge.

Peterson is working with Boston's sister city of Kyoto, Japan, to win a permanent Asian garden (indoor or outdoor: undetermined) for one of the three parcels. He's seeking money for "predeveopment and planning" and expects to phase in whatever will be built through at least 2010.

In the meantime, Peterson wants to bring to Boston an international topiary exposition, which was a hit in Montreal in 2000-01, to fill the space.

. . .
The city wants something to happen on 11 blighted parcels of land, mostly in Roxbury, and has signed an agreement with the state that will allow the Boston Redevelopment Authority to take the lead in developing them. Naturally, housing is preferred. For info, call Linda Haar, 617-918-4319.

And city officials last week cut the ribbon at the Yankee/Commercial Lobster reopening - a new seafood processing facility in the Marine Industrial Park, at 300 Northern Ave. Co-owner Joe Zanti is the third generation in his family to run the business.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached by e-mail at palmer@globe.com.

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