As a key element of Boston’s Olympic bid, the Widett Circle industrial area has had a big role in the city’s public discussion in 2015. If Boston winds up hosting the 2024 Summer Games and things go according to organizing committee Boston 2024’s plans, the area would wind up as the site of a 60,000-seat temporary stadium, and could ultimately become a new mixed-use neighborhood. In pitching the idea to Bostonians, Boston 2024 officials have referred to the area as “Midtown.’’
But right now, Widett Circle is a public roadway that encapsulates a co-operative of several meat and seafood wholesale companies called New Boston Food Market, which would need to leave to make the stadium plan workable. The industrial area is adjacent to MBTA and city-owned land (the latter of which has reportedly been targeted by the New England Revolution for a soccer stadium). Widett Circle straddles South Boston and the South End, and is located right off the Southeast Expressway.
So who was Widett, anyway? The roadway is named for the lawyer who got the companies there close to a half century ago, after a development initiative forced them out of their old home.
Harold Widett was the attorney for a group of meat sellers who in the late 1960s were given the boot from their longtime location in Quincy Market, which was set to be turned into the tourist-centric hub it has become. He led the way in finding them a new place.
The forced move was described by a May 1970 Boston Globe article as “agony,’’ but the new location was called “ecstasy.’’ The article, published a few months after the companies had begun operating in the new space, explained that they formed the co-operative under Widett’s guidance:
Since 1933 (Widett’s firm) Widett & Kruger has represented the meat packing industry in New England, hence is familiar with their legal, organizational, construction and equipment problems.
Thus, about four years ago, the New Boston Food Market Development Corp. came into being, each of some 30 members as shareholders in proportion to their investment and the area they would occupy in the now-completed site on South Bay.
Widett helped the companies secure tax breaks from the city for the new location, as well as what the Globe reported at the time to have been the largest-ever Small Business Administration loan, at $7.7 million. (The previous largest loan? According to a separate Globe article from 1968, it had also been negotiated by Widett for produce companies that were forced from Faneuil Hall and found new locations in Chelsea and Everett.)
“It was the crowning achievement of his career,’’ Richard Stein, an attorney who worked with Widett, told Boston.com.
Stein, who now works for Nixon Peabody, joined Widett’s firm in 1980 when Widett was 70 years old. By then, Stein said, Widett spent most of his time servicing clients rather than taking on new work. He said there were several winter instances in which he was in the same room as Widett, and Widett would receive a call from a member of the food market saying the road had not been plowed. Widett would place a call to City Hall and his namesake road would be cleared of snow shortly thereafter, Stein said.
Widett died in November of 2000, at 90 years old. He was born in Chelsea, and spent most of his adult life as a resident of Brookline before moving to Newton later in life.
Stein remembered Widett as an attorney “from a different generation.’’ “He was exquisitely dressed,’’ he said. Widett’s son-in-law, Gerald Rosen, recalled that Widett was “very charismatic,’’ and that he was “a skilled horseman.’’ Stein said he participated in “Riding the Hounds,’’ a horseback sport associated with the 19th century English aristocracy.
Today, Stein represents New Boston Food Market. “They’re one of my favorite clients,’’ Stein said. “I’ve been with them since the 1980s.’’
Boston 2024 is not the first group to look at Widett Circle as a development opportunity. “There’s been a lot of talk, not just from Boston 2024, about the…best use (of the location),’’ said Marion Kaiser, the CEO of seafood company Aquanor Marketing, which is part of New Boston Food Market. “We’re aware of that discussion.’’ Kaiser’s company moved in to Widett Circle in 1999. She said that it’s a good location for the co-op’s uses, especially considering its proximity to the highway. “Unless there’s a good reason to leave, we’re happy to stay,’’ she said.
While some members of the co-op were caught off-guard by the Olympic plans, things have been more positive since, said New Boston Food Market spokesperson Michael Vaughan. Representatives of the co-op have met in recent months with Boston 2024 officials and Mayor Marty Walsh. Boston 2024 has said that if Boston were to host the Olympics, it would help facilitate the companies’ move someplace new. Walsh has said he would not resort to the use of eminent domain to secure the land for the Olympics.
Vaughan said a recent visit to the complex from Walsh meant a lot to the businesses and their 800 or so employees. He said conversation about the Olympic plans, and a possible move from Widett Circle, will continue.