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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.

Surface designers for wharf are chosen

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 12/23/2002

A Virginia company teamed with a local designer has been chosen to design the Wharf District's public space, five central blocks of the new Surface Artery corridor, a person familiar with the selection committee's decision said.

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials plan to announce today that they have chosen EDAW of Alexandria, Va., and Copley Wolff Design Group of Boston from among five teams vying to plan the post-Big Dig open space extending between Christopher Columbus Park and High Street.

Separately, EDAW and Copley Wolff were in competition earlier to design two blocks in the North End, but both lost out to the Wallace Floyd Design Group, in collaboration with the Gustafson Partnership.

The third and final piece of the Surface Artery to be designed is a single park in Chinatown. The Turnpike's five-member selection committee, which includes representatives from the city of Boston and the state, has met with the finalists for the Chinatown parcel but has not yet announced a winner.

At today's announcement of the design team for the Wharf District, the actual designs proposed by the five finalist teams will be unveiled, Turnpike officials said. No details of the Wharf District proposals were available last week.

All the design ideas and concepts submitted by competing teams for the entire corridor will be on display at a public event Feb. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Boston Public Library. The 30-by-40-inch display boards will be available for the public to view for the month of February, Boston Society of Architects president Robert Brown told a meeting of the Mayor's Surface Artery Completion Task Force last week.

The designs submitted by competing teams do not bear a specific relation to what will finally be constructed on the Surface Artery land. Rather, they will be used as starting points in a long public process beginning early next year and leading to final designs.

Neighborhood groups in the three sections of the 30-acre Surface Artery Corridor -- the North End, the Wharf District, and the Chinatown and Leather District -- are now beginning to schedule regular meetings so they can influence the final designs. The design process is expected to take at least 15 months, and construction in the new open and public space about a year.

Discussions of what to do with the Surface Artery land, the strip where the old elevated highway has dominated Boston between Causeway and Kneeland streets, have gone on for more than a decade. But only in the last few months, as Turnpike officials have pushed forward the long-delayed process to select a designer, have specific notions been created for the various parcels.

A half-dozen development parcels over the new Central Artery tunnels, and others south of Kneeland Street, will be dealt with separately by the Turnpike and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Legislation to create a new organization to govern the ownership, financing, and control of the Surface Artery failed to pass last summer. But Representative Joseph Sullivan, a Braintree Democrat who cochairs the Transportation Committee, refiled a slightly altered version early this month.

"I believe this 'entity' has the right focus," Sullivan said. "I don't think the Turnpike is the right agency to perform this work," he said.

In the meantime, Turnpike and city officials say they are close to signing a "letter of understanding" that would lay out a process under which they would jointly oversee design and construction of parks and other public space. The Turnpike has agreed to pay for maintenance for up to five years, but some long-term financing scheme will have to be developed so the area is properly cared for.

Although most of the more than 30 members of the task force are happy to see the design process move forward, they continue to chafe at being excluded, even though they belong to the group specifically designated by the state as the official citizens committee.

Most members were unaware the legislation had been refiled, and they have never been given drafts of either the proposed city-Turnpike agreement or a summary of the Surface Artery design process that was recently sent to the Federal Highway Administration for its approval.

"We have not seen a draft," Anne Fanton, executive director of the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee, said at Thursday's meeting.

Added Larry Rosenblum, a Leather District resident: "This is a complete violation of the spirit of the process."

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

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