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$40m museum proposed for Greenway

Planners looking to create a 'cultural commons' for city

A "New Center for Arts and Culture" is the latest museum proposal to be unveiled for the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The four-story, $40 million structure, to be located at the edge of the Financial District, is sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.

The project's architect is Daniel Libeskind, who may be best known as the master planner for the World Trade Center site in New York City. The purpose of the New Center would be to "explore cross-cultural dialogues and traditions in Boston," supporters said.

The center is one of several proposals for an area of the Greenway known as Parcel 18. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority controls the selection process. The Greenway is a corridor of parks and public space that will replace the Central Artery, the elevated highway now being dismantled.

The same group that wants to build the center recently sponsored an event called "Words on Fire," which should be viewed as a prototype of the project's vision, said Edwin Sidman, chairman of the New Center and chairman of Beacon Cos. Held in several venues, "Words on Fire" was a multimedia festival inspired by the 70th anniversary of book burnings in Nazi Germany. It explored the themes of censorship and freedom of expression through art exhibits, films, and lectures. One exhibit, presented by the Museum of Afro-American History, featured some of the earliest written works by African-Americans.

With 64,700 square feet, the New Center's building would be a curved structure that reflects the contours of the site. Plans call for an atrium, landscaped plazas, a "culture cafe," and a rooftop garden.

A goal of the New Center is to "create a vibrant gathering place for all Bostonians to share the richness of our diverse cultures," said Robert Beal, president of Beal Cos. and a director of the New Center. "The New Center for Arts and Culture will create a cultural commons that will be a vital force in building one Boston through arts and culture."

Building over the depressed artery is as much a financial challenge as an engineering one. To date, the New Center has raised about $2 million, Sidman said, noting that the sponsors have a proven track record for raising money.

The New Center is smaller than another proposal for the site unveiled last week: an $89 million Boston Museum Project and visitors center devoted to local history. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the four-story Boston Museum would bear a resemblance to a ship's hull. It would have 163,000 square feet of space.

Yesterday was the deadline for submitting proposals for this segment of the Greenway. Three qualified proposals were submitted, including those for the New Center and the Boston Museum Project. The third proposal is from Manjushri Prakash, an architect and urban designer from Cambridge. Her $55 million vision is for a multilevel plaza that would include indoor theaters, an outdoor theater, restaurants, and a parking area for tour buses. It would be a place were people of all ages and all parts of the city could meet and interact, she said.

Meanwhile, two other submissions were being reviewed by the authority's legal staff to determine whether they met the guidelines of a qualified proposal, said Doug Hanchett, a spokesman for the authority. Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew Amorello is "very pleased with the responses and the high level of interest in Parcel 18," Hanchett said.

There is no set timetable for selecting the winner, he said. An earlier selection process for another section of the Greenway took several months. If the New Center is the winner, Sidman estimated that it could be completed in 2008.

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

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