Foreign Bids May Join Artery Design

4-Part Landscape Project Envisioned

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 04/03/2001

Hoping the world's top creative talent will help reshape the future look of downtown Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is considering a plan that would open the design of a key portion of the Surface Artery Corridor to international competition.

The competition, which focuses on sculpting the land between the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel and Rowes Wharf, is part of a broader plan to resolve several contentious issues that have been debated for a year.

Besides targeting the Wharf District, the plan addresses three other Surface Artery sections, proposing the creation of a grand urban garden, the building of a museum of historical maps, and turning development near South Station into a highly visible gateway to the city.

Menino, reportedly initially lukewarm to the multipart plan, now considers it a serious proposal. And Boston Redevelopment Authority officials are reportedly enthusiastic about making some version of the plan work.

The Surface Artery Commission is scheduled to meet tomorrow for the first time in several weeks. It's unclear whether the new plan will be discussed.

The Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project will create a huge swath of prime downtown real estate. Trying to produce a grand vision for the new land atop the Big Dig that will satisfy everyone -- various state and local officials and agencies, neighborhoods along the Surface Artery, and the general public -- has been difficult.

Working behind the scenes, the new plan was drafted by the Big Dig, the city of Boston, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and the redevelopment authority.

The turnpike authority has devised plans for the North End, the Quincy Market area, Chinatown, the Leather District, and Dewey Square that generally have been embraced by residents and neighborhood groups, according to sources close to the planning process.

But the turnpike authority, so far, has been less successful in drawing up a blueprint for the Wharf District.

The new plan assumes that three parcels long designated for a new Massachusetts Horticultural Society facility will be developed as planned, featuring glassed-in year-round gardens. But the new Surface Artery plan, in addition to seeking to resolve the Wharf District issue, also addresses three other problematic areas:

Two parcels between India and High streets would be combined into a larger plot to make way for a park as well as some underground space that could house a museum. A Broad Street extension across the Surface Artery would be eliminated.

Artery Business Committee president Richard Dimino and developer Norman Leventhal have met with turnpike officials to promote the idea of building a small museum for Leventhal's collection of historical Boston maps.

A parcel between High Street and the new Northern Avenue bridge, cut by ramps to and from the new Central Artery tunnel, would be offered for the development of a cultural institution, such as a museum.

Though designated by environmental permits a decade ago as open space, the highway ramps make creating a park difficult. For years there has been an informal understanding between the Big Dig and nearby residents that a building covering the open ramps would be an improvement over the original plan for a park.

Four parcels south of Kneeland Street, which are designated for commercial development, would be open to another design competition.

The goal, say those familiar with the new Surface Artery plan, is to create an attractive architectural statement that would serve as a gateway to Boston from the south.

"It would offer a bookend to the highly visible bridge on the north," said a source involved in the process, referring to the new span over the Charles River.

The winner of the competition for the Wharf District landscape design would be chosen from between two finalists by the governor, the mayor, and the turnpike authority. A jury would be appointed to pick the finalists.

While the Wharf District plan has not been finalized, those familiar with it said it would include specific design instructions. A fountain and an outdoor theater are likely to be included.

Former turnpike chairman Andrew Natsios, who contributed to the plan before taking a job in the Bush administration last month, has said publicly that the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities is a candidate to build a museum along the corridor.

The final piece of the new Surface Artery plan focuses on who will control the space.

If agreement can be reached on the design elements, Boston and state officials could announce an endowment to fund a commission and employ staff to oversee parks and other property, sources said.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached by e-mail at

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