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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.


Artery plans hardly scratch the surface

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 10/20/2002

If you were keeping an eye out for Surface Artery developments last week, you were probably disappointed.

We've gone to a lot of long meetings lately on the fate of the 30 or so acres that will be sucked back from 45 years of oblivion under the elevated Central Artery. But mostly what there is to report from the meetings is more squabbling over long-term ownership, more indecision, and a notable lack of leadership over governance of this important real property.

Should there be a single-purpose entity for the corridor? Maybe. How much power should it have? Not too much. Consensus is still far off.

But interesting presentations and discussions are taking place, and decisions being made, in the interim; they relate to what this land will look like. All that's happening at meetings we aren't (that is, the public isn't) invited to.

Last week the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's five-person committee, which is receiving proposals from design teams, agreed on its favorite among the four finalists for the North End park parcels. The four North End finalists, from an initial field of 13 teams that wanted to help sketch the future of Boston, were headed by Copley Wolff Design Group, Thomas Balsley Associates, Wallace Floyd Design Group, and EDAW.

The committee's recommendation -- those involved are not saying which one it is, though all four teams allegedly made stellar pitches -- will go to project director Michael Lewis, who will forward it to Massachussetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew Amorello.

Now it's unclear just what role the City of Boston, within whose boundaries the land lies, will play.

The city has two of five seats on the panel that in the end will recommend three separate design teams, for three separate downtown Surface Artery corridor sections: North End, Wharf District, and Chinatown/Leather District.

The turnpike has two seats, and the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs has the tie-breaker. However, it's not at all clear that the recommendation of the majority of those five is the last word.

Turnpike and Big Dig officials have remained fuzzy about who will make the final decision in these competitions. Turnpike and Boston Redevelopment Authority officials have been jousting for weeks over a joint "memorandum of understanding" governing this process, but unsuccessfully so far.

In public, this is a friendly disagreement that is always almost resolved. But at one recent meeting of the Mayor's Surface Artery Completion Task Force, the tug of war for control that is going on in earnest between the Pike and the city spilled into public view.

"The relationship is not satisfactory to achieve the ends the city is looking for," said BRA director Mark Maloney, speaking for the city. Despite the turnpike's claims of cooperation, he said, the turnpike forges ahead with the selection process, the city's role left undefined. "I'd like to feel a sense of urgency," said Maloney, speaking unusually pointedly for such a diplomatic guy.

Though the turnpike appears to hold all the cards at the moment, the city may have an ace in the hole. Anne Fanton, executive director of the Artery Oversight Committee, notes that city officials, in the end, "have to issue the permits for the designs to go forward, and that's an important position for them to be in."


Historic Neighborhoods will tour the new offices of the two Boston law firms pioneering the South Boston Waterfront in the World Trade Center West tower, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, $10 for nonmembers ... Spaulding & Slye Colliers is storing its massive amounts of operational and market data at the Online Backup and Recovery Service of LiveVault Corp., in Marlborough ... Massachusetts Port Authority officials say US senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and Representative Michael Capuano brought home the bacon with a $1 million Economic Development Administration grant, to help renovate East Boston's shipyard.

Have a question about development in Boston? E-mail Lots & Blocks at blocks@globe.com.

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