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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 team is selected for North End Artery parcel

Naming of winner delayed by struggle between city, state

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 11/5/2002

A five-person panel has selected a design team for the North End section of the Surface Artery, but Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials overseeing the process say they won't name the winner until they consult with City Hall.

The design team, chosen from a group of four finalists, is one of three to be chosen by early next year and that jointly will create the parks and other public spaces that will replace the elevated Central Artery, half a century after it was erected.

The delay in announcing the name of the design team of the surface space in the North End corridor, between Sudbury and North streets, is largely the result of a prolonged power struggle between Turnpike and Boston officials over who will control the process.

By virtue of its management of the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project, the Turnpike appears to have the upper hand and is pushing the process forward. Presentations by the five teams of finalists for the Wharf District are being made this week.

The selection panel consists of two Turnpike representatives, two City of Boston representatives, and one from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

They are scheduled to select a Wharf District winner this month and a third design team, for a Chinatown and Leather District parcel, in December.

But at another contentious meeting of the Mayor's Surface Artery Completion Task Force on Thursday, it was clear that city and Turnpike don't agree on how to proceed -- and also that the task force, whose members have been wrestling with Surface Artery issues for years, have little or no influence.

The design teams are being graded by a point system, considering their experience, qualifications, and approach to remaking Boston's 30 downtown acres. They each presented what Big Dig director of architecture Fred Yalouris called "concepts" -- boards showing possible designs for the open space. All the ideas -- even those created by teams not selected -- will eventually be shown to the public.

However, Rebecca Barnes, the city's chief planner and one of its representatives on the design selection panel, said she favored presenting the designers' concepts early next year and all at once -- after all three design teams have been chosen and signed contracts.

"I feel very uncomfortable keeping the North End boards in a vault so to speak," Yalouris said, adding, "The boards don't need an interpreter."

"I don't agree with that," responded Barnes. Her comment was an illustration of the kind of disagreement that for months has prevented the Turnpike and city officials from being able to agree on a so-called memorandum of understanding that would govern their joint management of the designer selection process.

Task Force members said an agreement is vital, especially since efforts to pass legislation creating a special authority-like entity to control and finance the Surface Artery land appear to have collapsed.

"It's extraordinarily frustrating for the folks who have worked on it a long time that the city and state can't come to a memorandum of understanding about how to do the design work," said Patrice Todisco, executive director of the Boston Greenspace Alliance and a member of the task force.

"We're reduced to being `Harriet the Spy' to find out what's going on," she said.

Yalouris said that, although the choice of the winning team for the North End space was not unanimous among the five selection panel members, that choice would not be overruled by either Turnpike chairman Matthew Amorello or Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who are reviewing the panel's decision.

But the 30-plus-member task force and its supporters want to be more than observers -- meeting and debating, but removed from the actions that shape the post-Big Dig downtown.

"You've got to give us something to do," said Diane Rubin, a lawyer representing Harbor Towers residences, reflecting the frustration of many. "We've been coming to these meetings for two years now. We're being overly managed, and it's not giving us a chance to participate."

Whether or not the city and Turnpike are able to agree on a procedure for selecting the designers and hammering out the final designs through a process that involves the public, the designers for the three sections of the Surface Artery are all supposed to have been selected and be under contract by early next year.

Yalouris said the process of actually reaching final designs will then take 12-16 months. Depending on the season it starts, construction then would take about another year, and the open space from Kneeland to Causeway streets would be completed by about mid-2005.

Development of the half-dozen parcels along the corridor that are designated for buildings is a separate process, expected to lag the open-space schedule.

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

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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