'); //--> Back to Boston.com homepage Arts | Entertainment Boston Globe Online Cars.com BostonWorks Real Estate Boston.com Sports digitalMass Travel Click for the Boston Globe Online Click for the Boston.com homepage
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.

New fight erupts over Surface Artery

Group from North End wants a park put on site slated for development

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 9/17/2002

* Read details of the North End Central Artery Advisory Committee report
* More about Parcel 12

Things are moving backward as fast as forward in the effort to determine what to do with Boston's Surface Artery land -- the 30-acre Big Dig corridor now only a little more than two years from scheduled completion.

Plans for surface parks over the highway tunnels have been 10 years in the making, with little yet to show. And a high-level political push at state and city levels to create a governing structure for the reclaimed real estate collapsed in July.

This month, even as the Turnpike authority sought designers for the downtown parks, yet another new battlefront opened up. A group of North End residents presented the Mayor's Surface Artery Completion Task Force with a virtual demand for a park on a parcel that has long been designated for development.

The group's plans for a park, between North Street and Christopher Columbus Park, were well developed and garnered interest among members of the task force. But the presentation was so aggressive that it drew harsh words from the normally patient task force cochairman, Rob Tuchmann.

North End resident Daniel Nuzzo charged that the Big Dig's placement of two traffic ramps on the North End parcel years ago ''was poor design and maybe even bordered on negligence,'' and he insisted that the group endorse the plan for a park built over and around the two ramps.

''Can I challenge you to vote today?'' he said.

''Not only isn't that wise, I don't think it's fair,'' Tuchmann responded. ''I think you shouldn't say anymore, because I think that would be detrimental.''

Nuzzo represented the North End Central Artery Advisory Committee, whose position on the parcel reflects long-standing resentments about how the neighborhood has been treated, going back to the 1950s when the old Central Artery resulted in demolition of many buildings.

At the same time differences are developing on the North End block, however, officials of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project are pushing to choose final design teams for the three geographical sections of the Surface Artery.

  • The North End. Five months after the request for proposals was issued, four design teams were placed on a ''short list'' of finalists. The four, from 13 proposals, are headed by Copley Wolff Design Group, Thomas Balsley Associates, Wallace Floyd Design Group, and EDAW. Interviews will take place with the four teams during the second week of October.
  • The Wharf District, from Christopher Columbus Park to High Street. The first round of responses was received two weeks ago. ''We got 12 excellent proposals from a good mix of firms, local and international,'' Fred Yalouris, Big Dig director of architecture, said last week.
  • Chinatown and the Leather District. Also this month, the request for proposals from design teams for the third of the three areas was sent out. Turnpike officials say that designers are expected to be chosen for all three sections of the Surface Artery by the end of the year.

The authority is proceeding in the absence of an organization that would own the land and dedicate itself to surface design, development, and management.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Acting Governor Jane Swift last spring announced a plan to draw up legislation creating a nonprofit public trust, as had been recommended by groups that have been planning for the post-construction period. But the bill drew so much opposition that it was never brought to a vote.

Differences over the North End parcel raise the question of how planning can be coordinated for a strip of downtown land almost 20 blocks long, when neighborhoods abutting each block have strong feelings about what goes there. The North End group hired Weinmayr Associates Inc. and Sutphin Associates to draw up a plan for Parcel 12.

''If every neighborhood, whether wealthy or politically well-connected, were able to do this, this would never get built,'' said Robert Brown, a task force member and president of the Boston Society of Architects.

Although the land to be reclaimed when the old elevated Central Artery is torn down is seen as one of the huge payoffs of the $14.6 billion, 13-year urban highway project, more than a decade of planning and a two-year ''master planning'' process have led to little agreement about what should grace the corridor between Causeway and Kneeland streets.

With the failure of the effort to create a governing structure, the Legislature plans three public hearings on the subject this fall.

The first hearing will be at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the State House, the second at 10 a.m. Oct. 10 at City Hall. The third has yet to be scheduled. The next meeting of the task force is also Thursday, at 8:30 a.m. at City Hall.

Resolving differences over new proposed legislation will be difficult. But, even in the emerging little skirmish over the North End's preference for a park on Parcel 12, things get complicated.

First of all, environmental permits for the Big Dig designed specific uses for each parcel, and Parcel 12, which has two traffic ramps cutting through it, was chosen for development. The hope was that a five-story building would cover the unsightly ramps as well as provide revenue through the ''air rights'' fees that the developer pays to the Turnpike authority.

If Parcel 12 becomes a park, not only does that create another 11/2 acres of land to be maintained - it also eliminates development fees to contribute to maintenance of the entire corridor.

Since July officials of the Turnpike authority and the Boston Redevelopment Authority have wrestled behind the scenes to control the current selection of park designers.

The two agencies are in ''a continuing effort to work out a relationship,'' said Tuchmann. ''With the failure of the Legislature, the process is moving forward with vigor.''

Tuchmann was in an odd position at the recent task force meeting. His own panel having been denied access to the proposed governing legislation until late in the legislative session, he was forced to bring the group similar news about the emerging Turnpike-BRA arrangement.

''Yes, there's a draft agreement,'' he said, a tone of resignation in his voice. ''No, it's not at a stage that it can be looked at.''

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

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 9/17/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Advertise | Contact us | Privacy policy