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Menino flying to Italy to talk up Hub

Trip to Florence for mayor, wife being paid for by Milan-based consultants

Mayor Menino will speak on investing in culture. Mayor Menino will speak on investing in culture.
By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / November 15, 2010

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Hear the one about Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a French Socialist, and a Saudi sultan?

No, this is not a joke. Boston’s mayor will jet tomorrow to his ancestral homeland of Italy for a forum on cultural heritage and landscape at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, a 13th-century palace and the original home of Michelangelo’s statue David.

Menino will take part in an eight-member panel on Thursday that will include Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister of France; Prince Sultan F.N. Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia; and other officials from Brazil, Turkey, Italy, and the United States. The group will discuss the reuse of underutilized urban spaces, balance between development and the environment, and the future of art in cities.

“Boston is the most European city in America,’’ Menino said in a phone interview yesterday. “They want the mayor of America’s most European city talking about cultural heritage and preservation.’’

Travel expenses for Menino and his wife will be paid by the forum sponsors, the European House-Ambrosetti, according to the mayor’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce. The Milan-based management consulting group also paid for the mayor to attend a 2008 forum in the Italian Alps with the presidents of Israel and Italy, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other global leaders.

The lineup in Florence does not include heads of state or other A-list luminaries with whom Menino rubbed elbows in 2008 at a villa on Lake Como near Milan. This week’s roster includes other mayors; cultural officials from Bahrain, Canada, and elsewhere; and representatives from institutions such as the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Menino’s office did not release details yesterday on the mayor’s accommodations in Florence or provide a total price tag for the trip. Menino will fly out tomorrow and return Monday.

Menino has been criticized for taking international excursions paid for by outside groups. His passport includes stamps from a 2003 trip to Rome for a conference sponsored by the European-American Urological Association, the Globe previously reported, and a jaunt to Istanbul in 2005 courtesy of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“It’s appropriate if there is going to be a benefit to Boston,’’ said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits.

Menino’s presence in Florence, Tyler said, could help persuade conference attendees that Boston is an attractive place for business; contact with the director of a museum could help bring a prestigious exhibit to Boston.

“But I think the mayor has to be careful who is paying for this and what’s expected and make sure that this is something that will be in the interest of the city,’’ Tyler said.

Concerning the 2008 trip, Menino said yesterday that he made promising business contacts that included a manufacturer interested in opening a facility in Boston. The connections did not ultimately bear fruit.

“It’s a global world that we work in and we have to have global contacts,’’ Menino said. “That’s what I hope I bring back to Boston. . . . A great city must be a global city. You can’t live in a world by itself. You have to open your eyes to see what is happening in other cities.’’

When Menino speaks on the panel Thursday, he will mention his grandparents’ hometown of Grottaminarda in the southwestern part of the country, according to a draft of his remarks. And he will wax with pride about this past summer, when he received the Italian Medal of Honor, bestowing on him the title of commendatore, the fourth-highest rank of knight in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

The meat of his remarks will focus on “three big ideas’’ to renew urban spaces, reinvent neighborhoods, and reinvest in arts and culture. Menino will talk about the push to revitalize Boston’s Theatre District, transforming a city dump into Millennium Park in West Roxbury, and rerouting Interstate 93 underground to create a ribbon of green space downtown.

Menino will boast about his Office of New Bostonians to welcome newcomers to the city and the writing of green building standards into the zoning code to curb the environmental impact of growth. He will describe the branding of a swath of South Boston as an Innovation District for creative jobs. He will also highlight Boston’s new Institute of Contemporary Art and the $504 million expansion at the Museum of Fine Arts.

“The arts do more than merely enrich our surroundings and our lives. They fortify a city economically,’’ Menino will say, according to the draft of his speech. “Our arts explosion generated thousands of new jobs. Tourism is one of Boston’s core industries.’’

In conclusion, the mayor of Boston will make a pitch to his international audience.

“I welcome all of you,’’ Menino will say, “to visit Boston in the future.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com.