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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.

Design of artery surface at issue

Kerasiotes Urges Hiring Of Planner

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 09/21/1999

Frustrated by what he sees as the slow pace of action at City Hall, Massachusetts Turnpike chairman James J. Kerasiotes has proposed hiring a master planner to design a 27-acre strip of open space over the submerged Central Artery.

``We're stepping up; we're not waiting around,'' said Kerasiotes, who sent a letter yesterday to Mayor Thomas M. Menino. ``The project is almost two-thirds done, and it's time to move on to this last and most important piece, which is what is left behind.''

By 2005, the Central Artery will run underground from South Station to the FleetCenter. But concern has grown in recent months that after $11 billion has been spent to put the highway underground, insufficient resources and planning are being devoted to the surface.

City-state turf battles have slowed efforts to plan the restoration of the artery surface, beyond the basic promise that 75 percent of the strip will be open space and 25 percent could be developed.

Under provisions of a bond bill now before the Legislature, a special commission on surface restoration is supposed to be overseen by state Transportation Secretary Kevin Sullivan. But the proposal by Kerasiotes to hire an outside planner seems to be a preliminary effort to take charge of the issue.

City Hall gave the Kerasiotes plan a cool reception. James Rooney, Menino's chief of staff, said the suggestion to hire a master planner is ``a good gesture'' but seems to focus on the design of open space, ``planting trees and grass, that sort of thing.''

``This is technical; this is design,'' Rooney said. ``It's a small component of a larger picture that the mayor and Legislature have been working on.''

The surface restoration commission ``will be the forum to talk about funding, maintenance, governance, development, and all the macro issues on this major section of downtown Boston,'' Rooney said. ``Clearly the turnpike and the artery need to be part of that.''

In addition, he said, anything that is proposed to go on the artery surface must be approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Kerasiotes spokesman Jeremy Crockford said the Menino administration didn't appreciate the breadth of what was being proposed.

``There's a huge difference between planting sycamores and a master plan,'' said Crockford. ``We're talking about urban planning for one of the most important parts of downtown Boston, something that's going to be an issue for generations. We think that's a pretty big deal.''

In his letter to Menino, Kerasiotes invited the mayor to join a search committee to choose ``a master planner for the designated open space parcels to be created by the elimination of the elevated Central Artery.''

Kerasiotes said he wants to find ``the best urban planners we can find to help us make sure the open space we create is an inviting, attractive gem this city and state will treasure.''

The search committee would include representatives from City Hall, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Boston Greenspace Alliance, the Artery Business Committee, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

The master plan consultant would also be asked to show what other cities around the world have done with spaces left by eliminated or suppressed highways or rail lines.

Long-term resources must also be addressed, including who pays for the creation of parks and civic destinations along the strip and their maintenance, Kerasiotes said.

Menino has suggested that business owners adjacent to the suppressed artery be responsible for maintaining parks and attractions, similar to the public-private partnership that created the Post Office Square park. But the mayor has not spelled out any guidelines for that process.

The only detailed effort thus far has been by private landowners and architects seeking to redesign Dewey Square, which will be at the beginning of the newly submerged highway. Included in that plan is a botanical garden complex by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, though that group's finances are currently in doubt.

There have been other suggestions for attractions and modest development, so that the surface parcels are not dominated by lawns with a few benches and fountains thrown in. Ideas include recreation areas, such as skating rinks or bocce courts; a series of squares with retail outlets and cafes; and a venue or attraction that would be an extension of the aquarium.

Kerasiotes said there is a clear need to organize all those possibilities in a single plan.

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