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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.

Greenway plan set, political leaders say

Some worry open-space protections inadequate

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 7/13/2002

As city and state officials unveiled governing legislation for a new Surface Artery Greenway that one called ''a blueprint for 21st century Boston,'' some veterans of the negotiations over the land yesterday worried that a decade of promises may not be kept.

Speaking near the New England Aquarium, in front of a section of the elevated Central Artery that will come down in about two years, Acting Governor Jane M. Swift, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday said that years of wrangling over financing and control of the 30 acres is nearly over.

The release of a final version of a proposed law establishing a nonprofit Massachusetts Millennium Greenway Trust to govern the land was delayed until next week, pending last-minute alterations. But, Menino said, ''We got the job done. What we're doing today is knitting our downtown and waterfront together.''

A Conservation Law Foundation attorney, however, said that a draft of the proposed legislation that was circulating yesterday omitted any provision to enforce strong commitments to open space made over a decade ago, including the promise 75 percent of the land would remain unbuilt.

''I don't think it does an adequate job of protecting the 75-25 split,'' said Bennet Heart, a foundation attorney. ''It doesn't include a definition of open space.''

Patrice Todisco, executive director of Boston Greenspace Alliance, said that she would state several concerns at a hearing on the proposed law, tentatively scheduled for Thursday morning.

''Somewhere along the way, the focus changed from a group concerned with the open space to a group that's more of a development entity, or almost like a quasi-authority,'' Todisco said yesterday. ''I'm not sure that was fully publicly discussed.''

Consistent with an outline set forth in March by Menino, the proposed nonprofit trust would control open space and development parcels in the corridor, from just north of Causeway Street to south of Kneeland Street. Contrary to previous assumptions by most public officials, however, almost all of the revenue generated by those half-dozen or so development plots would accrue to the trust.

According to a draft copy of the legislation, the new organization - controlled by a board of seven unpaid trustees appointed by the governor and the mayor - would oversee design, construction, operation, maintenance, and budgeting. It would also manage the development parcels.

In a major last-minute change, the trust would not rely entirely on a surtax on downtown businesses for the $6 million or so in annual operation funds. The final version, officials said, would tax businesses within a quarter-mile of the corridor for about $4 million. The other $2 million would come primarily from revenue that is expected from the lease of development parcels. The two sources would reflect the public-private partnership many interest groups and politicians have endorsed.

Artery Business Committee president Richard Dimino was happy with that change, but, ''We're still in the process of discussing with legislators some outstanding concerns.''

The business community would have one of the seven seats on the board of trustees.

The trust is expected to garner $85 million to $150 million from the development parcels. Excluded is the Big Dig headquarters building at 185 Kneeland St., whose value has been pledged to help pay for the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project.

Massachusetts Turnpike board chairman Matthew Amorello said through a spokesman that he supports giving the trust control of the Surface Artery land. However, ''There remains concern over here about losing those parcels,'' said spokesman Bob Bliss.

The two other Turnpike board members also worried that the authority would no longer have access to the revenue from the development parcels.

''We had counted on those funds to pay down cost overruns on the bonds of this project beyond $14.6 billion,'' said vice chairman Christy Mihos, who added that he is uncertain about current assurances by Big Dig officials on the cost. ''I just don't believe that those numbers have much credibility today.''

Two large panels would be created to advise the seven trustees that will make decisions about the Rose Kennedy Greenway, as the land was officially named several years ago.

One, a 30-member board of directors, would deal with budgetary issues. The other, a board of advisers unspecified in number, would deal with issues such as use and maintenance.

''All of the power rests in the hands of the trustees,'' Todisco said. ''That gives seven people an extraordinary amount of power. They're going to have a large say over what the face of the downtown looks like. They're going to have to be remarkable people and do a good job.''

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

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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