Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Christopher Charles Reardon/ Urban Affairs Meets Snails to Whales

Instead of a boat ride or a trip down to the waterfront to peer at the undersides of the piers to observe and record various forms of life we attended the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Planning Advisory Committee meeting. We heard from a number of speakers who talked about their visions for the future of the waterfront.

Yanni Tsipis from Colliers International representing the Boston Marriott Long Wharf talked about the Marriott’s vision for the waterfront property or as his company calls it the "edge activation project.” He explained the architecture of the Marriott and stated that originally the Marriott was built to protect "everything on the inside from the conditions on the outside." He talked about the Marriott’s vision for making the area around the hotel more attractive. He proposes building retail/restaurant space around the hotel. This retail space would be comprised of one-story buildings around the hotel. He also discussed needing to find a location for the "tour bus shanties" that surround the area. He expressed that the intention of the Marriott is make the wharf area an attractive retail corridor. He also stated that in order to offset the use of public space it might be a good idea to use the local parking lot as a park that would serve as a buffer. Several members of the advisory committee posed questions such as would you buy the parking lot from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and what are the dimensions of the one story pavilions. Furthermore, there were questions to Mr. Tsipis about pedestrian access, tables and seating for the public as well as the no trespassing signs in the area, and whether or not the area is public or private space. Other members of the advisory committee posed questions about the street vendors and what space they should fit into and how their kiosks affect property values. Moreover, one committee member expressed concerns that these new restaurants will ultimately have outdoor seating, which might extend the property even further. Finally, questions about how such a project would be commenced, and in what order was addressed.

Next, Dick Mulligan from the Boston Redevelopment Authority talked about his responsibility toward the waterfront area. He responded directly to Mr. Tsipis’ presentation and discussed the parking lot, specifically, if the parking lot goes away, where does the garbage go. He talked about the underlying issues at the waterfront that people do not ordinarily consider. He talked about the competing issues of a desire to bring more people to the waterfront yet dealing with the problem of homeless people and skateboarders. Mr. Mulligan talked about problems with tour buses: where did they go? He stated that he is excited about the vision for the waterfront and wants to embrace it. Questions Mr. Mulligan was asked included who owns the docks and what happens with nightlife in the area and late night drinkers.

Finally, from 255 State Street, Mr. David Lucey discussed his building as being a unique property. He explained that the reason this historical building was saved from the land clearing that allowed for the original Central Artery project was because of all of the telephone equipment in the building (it used to be a Nynex building). He talked about the plan for "activating the sidewalks" around the building by adding businesses. He states that he wants to add patios on three sides of the building. He also talked about issues of seawater creeping into waterfront properties and how he will need to move the building’s utilities in the basement up to the second floor. He discussed the problem with that: 5000 feet of lost rental space. When challenged as to what real hardship such a move would post, he discussed it in terms of lost rental property that would lead to reduced taxes and lower property values. He also talked about all of the buildings in the area and how all of the properties will ultimately have to address the problem with rising sea level.

Bud Ris president of the New England Aquarium discussed his conceptual Master Plan. He states that much of the aquarium planning involves wanting to organize everything that happens on the "city side" of the property. Mr. Ris stated that he wants to bring education out in front of the building and wants to look at the park and fountain that resulted from the elimination of the Central Artery as a connector. He talked about parking and the sun/shade as being big issues for his guests. He states that although some building projects won't have a lot of impact on shade in this area, he states that during the prime hours of the day that guests will be in the aquarium shade issues are still concerning. An interesting question was asked about water dependency. He explained that the New England Aquarium, since it relies on saltwater in the main tank, is designated as exempt from density issues under Chapter 91. He states that he would like to increase the visibility of the aquarium and showed artistic renderings of possible plans for the museum including gigantic LCD screens and architectural accents. He talked about a need for consistent pavement design as well as establishing a promenade down milk Street and perhaps a cafĂ© and grill in the Western Plaza. Furthermore, he discussed adding an educational node on the south pier. Humorously, another staff member from the aquarium discussed improving the "brutalist” architecture of the aquarium itself.

A few minutes at the end of the hearing was open for public questions and comments, however, very little time was left for this. At the end of the meeting one man stood up and asked what the next public benefit of shifting open-space would be if it is located next to a dumpster. This man talked about the importance of having great parks in the city, especially on the waterfront.

This trip to the advisory committee approved an interesting one. Although we did not get to catch crabs or get wet, it was still interesting. One of the books on my summer reading list is The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. I feel like after reading her book, what I witnessed at the advisory committee meeting will make even more sense to me than it already does.

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