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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Shaping Boston's new open space

By John Drew and Richard A. Dimino, 5/25/2002

In three years the elevated Central Artery will be removed from the landscape. The public has high expectations for the reuse of these 27 acres of land. While there are numerous benefits that will result from our $14.6 billion central highway system, the focus on restoring Boston's urban fabric and reconnecting the city to its harbor has been enduring and steadfast.
Planning and design, permitting and financing cycles for major public or private projects have durations that typically exceed a three-year period. Will we be ready to put shovels in the ground and start construction of public open spaces that will serve as a beacon for the new waterfront?

This unique opportunity faces real challenges. We need an "owner" for this project as soon as possible. We support the creation of a single entity that will have as its sole responsibility the management, design, construction, operations, maintenance, and programming of this complex building project.

Recently, Mayor Menino and House Speaker Finneran, working together with Acting Governor Swift, took a major step forward in addressing this challenge by proposing a framework for such an organization. The next step is the passing of legislation to endow this entity with the necessary expertise and resources.

Another issue that needs attention is the creation of a vision for the area's restoration. The recently completed "master plan" is a good starting point and can provide helpful guidelines. However, we are still in search of a program and a design approach that meets the multiple objectives of creating a common ground for our neighborhoods, a world-renowned destination, and a groundswell of political and financial support.

This challenge needs to be taken into account as we move into the next phase.

How do we find the best designers who will shape the vision and bring us the highest quality design?

The surface restoration component of the project is underfunded. All estimates for construction of these open spaces have been higher than the funds available in the Central Artery/Tunnel budget. In addition, estimates for the operation and maintenance of the space have ranged between $4 million and $6 million annually. That is more than one-third of the Boston Parks Department's budget. A financing strategy needs to be in place that stands on the shoulders of a bold vision and provides for a stable source of operational and maintenance funds. The financing strategy needs to be both equitable and innovative and should ensure the public's trust and be proactive in building public-private partnerships.

The following principles should be considered in the development of a governance and finance strategy:

  • Representation. Any governing entity established for the corridor should provide adequate representation for a broad spectrum of stakeholders that have a legitimate interest in the future of the corridor and the cost of its operation and maintenance.

  • Rationality. Any corridor financing plan needs to be based on construction, operation, and maintenance cost estimates that are anchored to a definitive program and design approach of the highest quality.

    We need to know what we are building before we can determine cost.

  • Equity. In order to be accepted by all stakeholders, the financing structure needs to have a fair distribution of the cost and the benefits.

  • Certainty. The governance of the corridor and the financing structure and obligations need to be understandable and predictable, with adequate protections to ensure that the obligations of all parties are met and that the resources developed are specific to this project.

  • Expertise. The governing body and the organization's appointments must be of high caliber and must represent a strong commitment to the corridor's success.

As a community, we have a strong track record in city-building. Now is the time for us to come together not only to uphold our reputation but to use this opportunity to create a legacy that will shine brightly and provide tangible benefits to a broad population for generations to come.

John Drew is president of World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel and chairman of the Artery Business Committee. Richard A. Dimino is president and CEO of the Artery Business Committee and a lecturer in Urban Planning and Design at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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