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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.

City Bids To Run, Not Fund, Artery Land

Panel Divided On Open Space

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 10/26/2000

As plans emerge for the new, 30-acre strip of open space in downtown Boston created by the depression of the Central Artery, the city wants to be put in charge of the open space and insists that other agencies and the private sector help pick up the tab.

After several years in which it had allowed others to dominate planning for the land to be reclaimed, Mayor Thomas M. Menino's administration told the Legislature's Surface Artery Commission yesterday that the city needs a strong say in how the land is developed and "a controlling interest" in how it is used.

"It should be the ultimate controlling entity as it relates to open-space parcels," James Rooney, Menino's chief of staff, told the 12-member commission. But the funding and maintenance of the project, expected to cost millions, "needs to be a hybrid," he said.

Rooney addressed the panel during its third weekly meeting. Menino and his deputies presented their ideas for both the design of the huge downtown strip, heavily emphasizing parks, and the manner in which it should be governed.

He urged the panel to designate a controlling authority for the land "as soon as possible."

"I believe it's critical at this point that the ultimate steward be designated," Rooney said.

The commission, however, took issue with the city's view.

Representative Joseph C. Sullivan, Democrat of Braintree and cochairman of the commission, said the state has spent too much money on the $14 billion Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project to let the city decide what to do with the land.

"I don't see the Commonwealth forgoing that opportunity," Sullivan said. "I don't think the city can expect that."

He said the agency responsible for the land should be involved in the separate process of determining what will be built on the surface, which is already well underway.

Fred Yalouris, director of architecture for the Central Artery Project, said it will take time before a governing authority is appointed for the parcel. "The commission needs some time to decide what the right thing to do is," he said.

Michael Lewis, acting project director, also disagreed with Rooney, saying that the Bremen Street Park in East Boston has been designed and is being built, despite the fact that no agency has been designated to look after it.

But Senator Robert A. Havern III, Democrat of Arlington and the other cochairman of the commission, sided with the Menino administration.

Calling Menino "the best mayor in the country," Havern said the city was a logical choice to control the reclaimed land.

"We're going to look and see if it's feasible for an existing authority to maintain it, like the Turnpike or the city, or if there needs to be a third group," Havern said. "How would a third party administer this when it's in the city? It's not like this is an island or an oasis."

Menino made a brief appearance at the commission meeting, held at City Hall. Though he left it to Rooney to make an explicit call for city control of the property, the mayor emphasized that the cost must be shared and that others should have some say in day-to-day operations.

"It's a perfect time to give a true example of a public-private partnership," the mayor said.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the city made strides in planning what to do with the 30 acres that will open up when the Central Artery goes underground. Menino noted he had fought against a plan that would have allowed as many as four lanes of traffic to run through the property.

As Big Dig construction got underway in the 1990s, a broad range of public groups met to discuss what to do with the property, but little was decided.

Two processes are now underway: the legislative commission, which is primarily concerned with who will own, govern, and pay for upkeep of the land, and a master-planning process set in motion by former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman James J. Kerasiotes, which is expected to produce a design by April 2001.

Consultants hired as master planners presented their latest ideas for the property on Tuesday night at Faneuil Hall.

Public officials are holding firm to a formula that limits development to 25 percent of the new land. But some at the meeting Tuesday night backed the business community's sentiment that too much open space may seem forbidding and underused, and that more buildings might in fact be more desirable.

At yesterday's meeting, Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, commended the city for its strong interest in the Artery land but said his organization would rather see someone else take control, preferably a "special purpose entity" combining the interests of public agencies and private land owners.

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