Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Planning Board Meeting

Terry Baurley
Downtown Waterfront Harbor Planning Meeting
Advisory Committee

Planning area property owner presentations
Boston Marriott Long Wharf -Yanni Tsipis
Long Wharf-Dick Mulligan
255 State Street- David Lucey
New England aquarium-Bud Ris

The meeting started with a historic look back at the land and harbor from 1945 to 1960 changes which included abandoned wharfs that were fire hazards to the brand-new elevated expressway to today. Part of the history was to show how far we’ve come. But the really interesting thing about the planning board is that these are long term visions of planners looking long-term into the future of Boston harbor and most especially long wharf in particular. These planners represent a large portion of the businesses that are anchors and important to the survival and success of long wharf and have been established there. Marriott Long wharf is looking to expand 20,000 ft. of restaurants, stores with large glass expanses and doors on all three sides. His vision was to expand an extended walkway into Faneuil Hall to entice visitors to explore the Harbor Walk and eventually Boston harbor into the islands. The thing that he was emphasizing with the Harbor Island Pavilion which would be new and more open spaces adding a buffer edge wall for storms. One of the things that he was most proud of was the wind turbines that generate all the electricity for the lighting around the harbor. So his long-term plan is to encourage growth by expanding his restaurants and tables. Unfortunately his biggest challenge is the hundred and 70 homeless people that come every night and sleep by the harbor. They had contingency plans where events come from the emergency shelter to pick them out for the evening. Some of the concerns that the planning Board had with the open space issue in the restaurants and tables not encroach into the harbor walk area.

The second property owner presentation was by Long Wharf Dick Mulligan BRA/EDIC his presentation was somewhat brief in that what he was proposing was more about the parking lots in this area. The concerns were about dumpsters, eye appeal and the proximity to the docks. This company seems to be involved in the financing of redevelopments. Mr. Mulligan was addressing ways to finance the long-term goals.

The third property owner with 255 State Street and David Lucey made the presentation. One of the most fascinating aspects of what he was talking about was global warming in some of the preparedness plans that they were drawing up. The concerns were basement flooding during high tides and astronomical storms, some of the thoughts that they were dealing with was moving elevator motors, and all electrical equipment up onto the roof and preparedness for any weather related events. The major drawback to this plant upgrade is the tremendous cost of the electrical wiring to run up to the roof. So the other alternative is to move the equipment onto the second and third floors of the building. The biggest concern with this alternative is the loss of about 15% 2 to 3 floors of office space that’s generating income. The biggest drawback with this is the reduction in revenue, which would be a tremendous loss to State Street but it’s also going to be an issue because tax revenues will go down along with property values because of the significant reduction in revenue. This was his biggest challenge and it is a concern that needs to be addressed because of the city starts to click lesson property taxes they have challenges meeting budgets. When businesses are unable to produce profit based on lost revenue from reallocation of space, and are challenged because of rising healthcare costs and the cost of doing business is it much harder economic climate to succeed in. In addition if these businesses cannot be profitable then you start to have vacant lots,  that produce no income and lead to more empty building. He also is addressing the possibility of astronomical high tide and storm surge and was discussing the challenges during Sandy in that they couldn’t pump the water out of the basement fast enough and that they are in the planning stage of some sort of a storm barrier to protect your property.

The last presentation was by New England aquarium – Bud Ris in addition to his frequent fund-raising plugs he was an enlightening presentation. With the new additions with the saltwater tank New England aquarium has experienced a 20% increase in sales. They presently hold close to hundred and 60 private events and wedding. His vision of the future is to increase the profile of New England aquarium, his main challenge and concerns hark back to the signage restrictions that were in force in 1969 and the concrete design plan that make it hard to distinguish that it is an aquarium to a first time for an or domestic visitor. He also espouses to drawing more visitors from Faneuil Hall by a more inviting plaza that has better customer flow planning. Part of this is by changing pedestrian traffic patterns in front the IMAX theater, aquarium and harbor seal tank. Some of the suggestions that he put forward is to expand the front entrance. Do overcrowding in the vestibule. An additional area of concern is the parking garage it presently holds 200 to 400 cars and they are looking at expanding capacity the concerns that the neighbors justly have is the additional shade that will be a consequence of having a larger parking garage part of what this other building has been used as overflow office space for researchers and classroom space. His dream proposal is to have a high definition screen on the IMAX building that will be showing continuous footage of underwater expeditions and continuous feeds from WebCams within the building to increase understanding of what the New England aquarium is. Some of the other additional capital projects that they are thinking of our sealing, plastering and then painting the exterior the building in order to get a different look the long-term consequence of painting on a regular basis might be too cost prohibitive but is something that they are exploring. An additional focus is a more permanent outdoor structure for the veranda so that they can expand their restaurant offerings. The outdoor tent that they presently have is something that they would like to replace with something more, and also add additional restaurant grade equipment to make serving the public and private functions more efficient. An additional long-term project was a floating dock where they can have a title zone free and open to the public with education about life around docks and tied and education about tides. An exciting development that should be commencing soon is a 49 passenger tour boat that’s going to be a cultural connection in that they will be running eight or nine regularly ferries to the children’s Museum and also fan. This is part of a long-term plan to help with some of the vehicle congestion one of the additional thoughts about reducing congestion was to institute shuttles to both North and South Station in an effort to reduce parking challenges. The parking challenge is the most decisive issue presently facing this community because of the increased popularity of harbor walk and it additional increase of 20% of sales in the aquarium added to an additional to 15 to 20% increase in visitors that will be exploring the harbor islands and will need all-day parking. Added to the additional complication of multiple school and tour buses on a regular basis.

In conclusion what was so interesting about the harbor planning meeting is a long-term vision of the community and the consensus building that happens during a planning process. With constructive question, ideas and additional information either supplied or requested gives this process not only peer review but the added wisdom of many people with diverse vision, values and long-term thoughts that will continue to focus on the planning necessary to ensure continued growth and development and success of a project it’s vital to economic stability and growth for both the city and Commonwealth.

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