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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.


Big Dig's plans for park called a big disappointment

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 12/22/2002

Delays. Cost increases. Investigations. The Big Dig has its big issues.

But there are many smaller ones too, which are debated, and even decided, in relative anonymity.

The Surface Artery conundrum is only the largest issue that involves real estate. Here's another.

Discussions have simmered for months over the placement of a section of the Harborwalk and a tiny park on the South Boston side of Fort Point Channel, adjacent to land owned by Gillette Co.

Environmental and neighborhood groups have long believed that they were getting something along the lines of plans, presented to them by Big Dig officials, showing a new Mount Washington Street, running from A Street - through Gillette's property -- to the channel.

At the end, along the water and intersecting the Harborwalk, would be a park.

It was a little part of a developing overall plan to make the so-called hundred acres straddling A Street a livable community, following a long history of industrial use and the recent turmoil of Big Dig excavation.

Well, when some of the groups' representatives went to a Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee meeting a couple of months ago, guess what. The plans had changed.

The street and the park had been moved over and were closer to a small Gillette pump building.

"There is controversy around the relocation on two points," said Valerie Burns, president of the Boston Natural Areas Network. "One, they're putting the Harborwalk not on the water side but on the back of the pump building."

The other issue is proximity to the pump house.

"There are times the pump building emits a high-pitched noise, and times when it emits a bad smell," Burns said.

Gillette and Big Dig and community officials met and met again, but there was no turning back. Gillette has given up a lot during Big Dig construction, but then the company has been handsomely repaid -- $60 million or more in overall compensation for the use of its territory while the Massachusetts Turnpike was being extended.

This battle's over.

"That's the situation, and I'd have to say it's happening -- the arrangement between Gillette and the Artery," said Burns. "You kind of have to pick your battles. We couldn't get this to change."

Minor concessions were made to the community. The sidewalk along Mount Washington was moved so it would not lead into a brick wall. Some landscaping was added.

Said Eric Kraus, a Gillette spokesman:

"We've put a lot of time and effort in trying to come up with a plausible solution. We're working to ensure the park is beautiful and functional, but not disruptive to our business operations."

Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, hopes it is not a done deal.

"We do not believe that what is being proposed at this time should be called a Harborwalk," she said, "because it's not on the harbor. If they want to call it a public pathway, fine."

Li noted tht there is a large window in the pump house on the water side; she suggests the walk be constructed along the water, with a view for the public into the pump house.

"Just like at the International Cargo Port, you can look at the industrial activity," she said. "People love that.

"There's a way to balance the need for security and allowing people to better understand the operations of Gillette," said Li.

"I hope in the new year all parties can work together to get a compromise. That's my Christmas wish."

Other assets

  • The Omni Parker House claims the title of "America's longest continuously operating hotel," and a Boston writer, Susan Wilson, has put together a delightful 50-page booklet on this landmark, which is almost 150 years old.

    Alas, you can't buy it. "It's not commercially available," said a Parker House saleswoman, Rima Patel.

    "Come and stay and request a copy. The concierge desk has them. We just don't sell them."

  • Boston Mayor Thomas Santa Claus Menino is looking to give low-income families up to $4,700 through the city's Earned Income Tax Credit, but first volunteers are needed to take eight hours of training and then spend four hours a week, through April 15, helping the eligible take advantage of the credit on their taxes.

    There is more information at www.cityofboston.gov/bra/eitc, or call Mimi Turchinetz, 617-918-5259.

  • When the snow, ice, and salt are gone in March, Kimpton Boutique Hotels, based in San Francisco, will open its first property in the Northeast. Hotel Marlowe, a 236-room, eight-story inn in East Cambridge, near Harvard and MIT, will be one of about 40 in the chain nationwide.

    We don't know what the Charles Hotel folks think about it, but the promotional material says Hotel Marlowe's presidential suite "will be the most luxurious offering this side of the Charles River." For the rest of us, rates will start at $179 a night.

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

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