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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.

Facing off over Big Dig jewel

Pike chief seeks proposals for design of surface areas, riling three top officials

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 5/25/2002

Over the objections of top city and state officials, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's chairman, Matthew Amorello, stuck to his announced schedule and yesterday formally requested bids from those who want to design the jewel of the Surface Artery: the Wharf District open space to be created downtown once the elevated Central Artery is demolished.

Members of the city's advisory task force on the creation of 30 new acres of downtown land hailed Amorello's action, but Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Acting Governor Jane Swift, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran opposed it.

The three powerful politicians lined up behind a strategy to freeze the already delayed process of finding designers for the land until a law is passed creating a board of trustees and a nonprofit structure to own and control it.

The "request for qualifications" issued yesterday invited firms or teams from around the world to offer ideas for four prime blocks in the Surface Artery corridor, from the border of the North End to High Street.

A similar request went out about a month ago for two of the open-space Surface Artery parcels in the North End, and Amorello said he saw no reason for further delay.

The third and final request, for designers interested in smaller parcels in Chinatown and the Leather District, are expected to be issued in four to six weeks.

But Swift's chief of staff, Stephen Crosby, said yesterday that he was mystified as to why Amorello issued the request for the prominent Wharf District, when city and state officials wanted it put on hold.

"It had been discussed with the Pike," Crosby said. "For some reason or other, they changed their minds at the last minute."

Crosby said there were no objections to the North End request going out, but, "the Wharf parcels were potentially much more controversial. It was absolutely explicit the governor and mayor and speaker did not want this to happen. It makes no sense."

Amorello said he did not want to postpone a process that has been in the works for years and has been delayed repeatedly.

The Turnpike is meeting its obligations under the environmental rules that govern the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project, Amorello said. "If they change the established governing body, everything is in place to keep it moving and turn it over," he said. "If there's a new board overseeing the development, great.

"Everybody who is interested in the Surface Artery wants the best development. This is positive. I'm following the . . . process of the neighborhoods that have had hundreds and hundreds of meetings."

Crosby, however, said there were elements that may have been left out of the documents. "It's hard to say it, but it's just indicative that it's being done in a pedestrian way," he said.

Mark Maloney, who as director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority represented Menino, said that a board of trustees should be legally constituted and put in charge of the land as soon as possible.

"We don't think that's the best way to proceed," he said of the Pike's action. "It's hard to imagine this new group of trustees yet to be formed will embrace everything the Turnpike has put forward on the most important issue they will have to face, the design of the parcels."

Anne Fanton, executive director of the Artery Oversight Committee, an environmental watchdog, opposes delay.

"Since the process for choosing a final designer will not change who owns the parcels, there's no reason to delay the progress toward meeting the open-space commitments," she said.

The environmental certificate for the Big Dig, issued 12 years ago, specified that 75 percent of the reclaimed land would be open space and that the surface would be completed, along with the tunnel construction.

Crosby said a bill that would finally create an entity responsible for design of the land and subsequent care and operations may be unveiled in about a week.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.>/i>

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