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All-out effort to get people to waterfront this summer

Events highlight local attractions

Julie Wormser (left), Vivian Li, and Sean Hennessey of the Boston National Historical Park walked the Greenway. Julie Wormser (left), Vivian Li, and Sean Hennessey of the Boston National Historical Park walked the Greenway. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / April 26, 2012
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The Big Dig was completed five years ago, resulting in the Central Artery’s demolition and creation of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 15 acres of public land. Once-polluted Boston Harbor has become not only a chic dining destination but clean enough to swim in.

For many Bostonians, though, the waterfront neighborhood and Greenway remain terra incognita. How to lure them down there? That is the aim of a consortium of nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and business owners behind a campaign labeled “Summer on the Waterfront: Eat, Splash, Shop, Learn.’’ Backed by a six-figure marketing effort, it will be formally unveiled June 1 and celebrated with a kickoff ceremony June 2 on the Greenway. The campaign runs through Labor Day.

Along with a dedicated website (www.summeronthewaterfront.org) and a packed schedule of events, it will feature outdoor concerts, architectural tours, and the opening of two new visitor centers, in Faneuil Hall and on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor; educational programs and family activities, from harbor island excursions to scavenger hunts, highlighting Boston’s storied history. And a smartphone app will enable visitors to shop at scores of merchants without needing cash or credit cards.

“This is the engineers finally passing the baton to the creative folks and retailers,’’ said Julie Wormser, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, who helped brainstorm the campaign. After a $22 billion, multiyear investment in the city’s infrastructure that created years of traffic snarls, construction noise, and other headaches, residents and tourists will get to enjoy the fruits of Boston’s recent transformation.

Participants include the USS Constitution Museum, New England Aquarium, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston Harbor Island Alliance, Boston Children’s Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Greenway Conservancy. The campaign ties together many already-planned events such as the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the opening of the Tea Party Museum in Fort Point Channel and Old Ironsides Discovery Center in the Charlestown Navy Yard, and the Tall Ships visit taking place over the July Fourth weekend.

Conceived last winter at a harbor association meeting, the campaign grew out of plans to organize a Waterfront Week this summer, modeled on Restaurant Week, a popular showcase for local chefs and eateries. Like Restaurant Week, Waterfront Week was supposed to raise public awareness of local attractions by enlisting many players - museums and nonprofits, principally - in a group marketing effort.

There was concern, however, that a weeklong celebration would compete with other events such as the 1812 commemoration, in which the USS Constitution will have a starring role. The question became: Why not a program that would coordinate what was already in the planning stages? At the same time, nonprofits like the harbor association and local museums wanted to support the many cafes and stores that have sprung up around the Greenway and waterfront areas.

“We didn’t want all those nice little side-street cafes to go under before people discovered the new Boston,’’ Wormser said.

Enter LevelUp, a Boston technology company focusing on mobile payments. LevelUp’s free, downloadable payment service allows users to find merchants online, using their smartphones, and then pay with their phones, without cash or credit card. They can also accumulate credits redeemable for future purchases. For merchants, the transaction fees are lower than what credit card companies charge, and the app makes these merchants more visible to potential customers.

According to LevelUp director Christian Sann, the hope is to enlist at least 150 merchants in the program, among them the 17 food trucks already licensed to operate in the waterfront-Greenway area.

Mike Conley, marketing director for Sebastian’s Cafes, said his company signed on with enthusiasm. One of its cafes is situated near the Seaport World Trade Center, where “foot traffic is slow at times,’’ Conley admitted. “For us, there’s lots of potential here to grow. LevelUp puts us in peoples’ hands. It’s a great location-based app we can utilize to be in front of more people.’’

Another LevelUp signee is the Barrington Coffee Roasting Company on Congress Street. It opened last winter, said co-owner Mukunda Feldman, and stands to benefit from a campaign like this one. “Once people find us, we see them two or three times a day,’’ Feldman said. “We’re a word-of-mouth business.’’

Summer on the Waterfront is being backed by $650,000 in pro bono support, covering billboard advertising, website maintenance, and tech support. The harbor association is seeking to raise another $20,000.

By any metric, summertime shines a light on the Hub’s waterfront. Last year, more than 310,000 cruise ship passengers disembarked here - this year’s projections are for 350,000 - and most look for something to do nearby while they are ashore, whether it is a museum visit or a stroll along the Freedom Trail.

Another 1.5 million passengers board Boston Harbor Cruises, one of three harbor cruise lines in operation downtown. The USS Constitution drew more than 500,000 visitors last year, the adjoining museum more than 300,000. The four restaurants on Liberty Wharf, which opened barely a year ago, are already serving 3,500 diners nightly.

It all adds up, organizers said, to millions of person-visits and billions of dollars in discretionary spending.

“We have history on the waterfront, we have art and culture, too,’’ said Anne Grimes Rand, president of the Constitution Museum. “It seems like a great time to bring people back to the waterfront and let them see how Boston shines.’’

To Charlie McCabe, director of public programs for the Greenway Conservancy - a private nonprofit that raises funds for the parks and organizes events within the Greenway - the campaign is the culmination of many initiatives that have made the area more attractive to strollers, shoppers, or families seeking low-cost entertainment.

“As long as these events and amenities are free and open to the general public, we’re interested in working with anybody who’s doing it for the public good,’’ McCabe said.

Among the first events leading up to the campaign will be the unveiling of a new National Park visitors center in Faneuil Hall on May 25.

It replaces the old State Street visitor’s center. June 22 marks the beginning of ferry service to Peddocks Island, where portions of the film “Shutter island’’ were shot and a new welcome center is opening.

Harbor association president Vivien Li called the campaign “the final linking of the land and water, the green and the blue’’ following the harbor cleanup and demolition of the old Central Artery.

Sometimes, she added, “it takes a generation to see something like this take place.’’

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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