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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.

A Bid To Organize Boston History

Group Eyes Parcel For A New Museum

By Karen Eschbacher, Globe Correspondent, 04/21/2000

History-hungry tourists and residents seeking to learn about events that helped spark the Revolution can stroll the Freedom Trail. The Women's Heritage Trail and the African Meeting House are among scores of local attractions that tell other pieces of Boston's past.

But those seeking a complete history of the city -- from Colonial times to the great Irish influx to the high-tech boom -- can't find it under one roof.

That could change if The Boston Museum Project has its way.

The group, a joint effort by members of The Bostonian Society, The Freedom Trail Foundation, and The Boston History Collaborative, plans to submit a proposal today to build a Boston History Museum on land that will be cleared when the Central Artery is pushed underground.

"I think people are stunned when they realize we don't have a history museum," said Anne Emerson, executive director of The Bostonian Society. "We have great individual sites around the city, particularly on the Freedom Trail, but there isn't really a central location where you can come to connect all this."

In February, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority issued a request for interest in the parcel, in which officials were asked for ideas on what could be built there. Unlike a "request for proposal," the process does not lock officials into choosing a developer for the 61,000-square-foot parcel between Quincy Market and the North End.

Submissions are due at noon today. Bob Bliss, a spokesman for the Turnpike Authority, would not say yesterday how many responses have been filed or how many are expected.

The 160,000-square-foot museum would cost $80 million, according to The Museum Project. Construction is expected to be difficult because of ramps connecting the depressed Artery with the surface roadway, but Emerson said the group has worked with Sullivan Properties, a real estate management company, on possible designs.

The museum would be highly interactive, with an exhibit that would show how the city has grown, including how engineers used landfill to expand Boston's core, and how entire neighborhoods have sprouted up where before there was only farmland.

"The key things that we want to accomplish are to build fabulous educational facilities and to build a real community building, so Bostonians can see each other across the city -- because we are a city that lives in our own little enclaves, so to speak," said Emerson.

Richard Garver, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's deputy director for planning and zoning, said any submissions will be sent to a task force made up of representatives from the North End and the waterfront area, and will also be looked at alongside plans for open space on the Artery corridor.

Nancy Caruso, who heads the North End Waterfront Central Artery Committee, was not completely sold on the museum idea yesterday. "For as much as I'd love to see this museum down here, I think the community though, the North End people who live here, they really need low-cost housing. That's really what they want," she said. "Right here in the North End, we are so short of space to live in, we're losing families."

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