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Here’s how a $20M donation could change Boston’s Esplanade

The two-acre redevelopment will include a visitors center and turf athletic field, among other improvements.

The Esplanade Association has committed $20M to renovating and operating an area of the park to be dubbed Charlesbank Landing. A signature feature of the redevelopment will be a 10,000-square-foot pavilion/visitors center overlooking the Charles River. Rendering courtesy of the Esplanade Association

The Esplanade may be seeing a new two-acre renovation at the former Lee Pool site after the nonprofit Esplanade Association pledged a $20 million donation to the state to fund Charlesbank Landing, a redevelopment project on the highly trafficked walking and biking path.

“Today our organization announced that we’re willing to commit $20 million towards a public realm improvement — a two-acre redevelopment that would include an acre and a half of landscape improvements surrounding about a quarter acre size public Visitor Welcome Center building,” Michael Nichols, Executive Director of the Esplanade Association said. “That would be just awesome for the public.”

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Some of the developments include:

  • a staffed and accessible visitors center with year-round open bathrooms and a roof deck
  • a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating
  • a new turf field and nature play area
  • 1.6 acres of landscape improvements including 500 perennials, 25 new trees, and green living walls, plus a large pollinator garden

This gift is believed to be the largest private gift made to the Massachusetts State Park system, Nichols said.

A proposed landscape map of the $20 million project shows where the new developments will be placed at the former Lee Pool site. The Esplanade Association

The Lee Pool has been closed since the 1990s and the Esplanade Association has been working on this project for over a decade with hopes to revive the unused space.

The visitors center building will take up about a quarter of an acre at the former pool site. The building and surrounding landscape construction will cost roughly $12 million and a $2 million endowment will be set up to take care of the building, according to Nichols.

The remaining $6 million the nonprofit plans to raise over 30 years to continue funding the building operations and maintenance.

“I think the facility will help augment people’s usage of the Esplanade,” Nichols said. “The simplest one, but actually really exciting to people is that it would be the first year-round public bathroom on the Esplanade.”

Nichols added that the lack of a public bathroom is particularly concerning considering the park’s traffic: the Esplanade is the busiest state park with roughly 3 million visitors each year.

“There’s nothing available for three or four or five months of the year, while the park actually remains the busiest running and biking trail in Massachusetts… they currently don’t have public bathrooms and so it’s small but it’s important,” Nichols said.

The athletic field being created will also be the first turf field on the Esplanade, which Nichols said will allow extended programming seasons.

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The construction should only take about one year to complete and they hope to begin in 2023, Nichols said.

“It’s a relatively modest size building, and so much of the effort will be on the outside landscaping and trying to make sure that we do the project in the best way that is good for the park, good for the environment,” Nichols said. “So that we don’t risk any kind of harm to the surrounding environment and the Charles River.”

The new developments are all consistent with the Boston 2030 and Climate Ready Boston goals as well. The Riverfront Pavillion will be “LEED®-certified, energy-efficient, and sustainably managed” according to the Esplanade Association’s website.

The green walls will be designed to improve air quality, the impacts of heat islands, and energy use reduction. Riverbanks and wetlands in the area will be engineered to “act as stormwater management systems and invite visitors to connect with the natural landscape.”

These project’s funds primarily come from Esplanade Association donations and fundraisers, Nichols said. They have raised funds for similar projects – most recently the creation of “Gronk’s playground” in partnership with former Patriots player Rob Gronkowski.

A proposed landscape map shows images of what the different parts of the renovations will include. The Esplanade Association

While they hope to start by 2023, Nichols said first the group must get approval from the state. Nichols said the project has received positive response from state officials and constituents and so he believes the plans should go through as scheduled.

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Currently, there are 23 organizations that support the project’s legislation. The group has also set up a support page on their website to help people contact state officials.

“The link sends you to a support page where people could — in 10 seconds or less — say ‘oh my god yeah like this project sounds great, we’d love to support it’ and that will get routed the state officials,” Nichols said. “That will be kind of an important part of setting the next stage of this.”

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