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Mayor envisions an architectural gem for next City Hall

Mayor Menino wants the next City Hall on the waterfront.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino , defending his plan to move City Hall to the waterfront, told business and political leaders yesterday that he wants to create an architectural gem on par with the Sydney Opera House.

The 14-acre property would also include a cultural center that could be used year-round for concerts and civic events.

Menino also said he wants to establish a new city services center at the Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square by relocating hundreds of employees from the School Department and the Department of Neighborhood Development.

The two city facilities, in Dudley Square and along the waterfront, would allow the city to rethink the way services are provided by downsizing and putting greater emphasis on technology.

"More people are doing their business online than going to an actual location," Menino told reporters after his address at the 75th annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "You can't think about today . You have to think about how you plan for the future."

Menino initially announced his plan to sell the current City Hall and build a new one on the South Boston waterfront in December. Some have questioned whether he would actually move forward with the plan, and others have been critical because municipal offices would be moved from the heart of the city to a less central area.

Councilor at Large Felix Arroyo has recently announced plans to put together a team of architects to come up with plans to remodel the current building.

But yesterday Menino said he is determined to move forward and sought to squelch fears that the site would be too out-of-the-way for residents to conduct city business.

"By creating a more exciting mix of uses, we will help this area become as much of a destination as Copley Square -- which itself was once considered the outer limits of downtown," Menino said.

He also said he plans to work with the MBTA to better integrate the Silver Line into the subway system so that residents could more easily use public transportation to get to the waterfront.

Menino said city architects are working on designs for the plans, which will be presented later this year. The city will then seek a developer to purchase the current building and City Hall Plaza, which have been valued at between $300 million and $400 million.

To build a new City Hall at Menino's proposed site on the harbor would require approval from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He also would probably need approval from the City Council, though there are procedural ways that he could sidestep the council.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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