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Artists question city approval of Fort Point plan

Owners didn't give them new leases as promised, they say

Artists in 10 buildings in the Fort Point section of Boston that are slated to be redeveloped said the new owners have repeatedly failed to give them new leases or relocations to comparable space.

The artists, many of whom have worked in the area for years, said they were assured by Boston officials that they would get new leases before the owners received city approval to start work on two of the buildings.

But in late June, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved plans by Goldman Properties of New York and the Archon Group to renovate two buildings, 316 and 322 Summer St., the first of 10 in a portfolio of 17 properties Goldman and Archon bought from the old Boston Wharf Company.

The approval angered artists, many of whom had previously complained to the BRA about what they said was the unpleasant negotiating tone the developer used against them.

``We had heard the project would not be approved, because there was so much outcry" from artists wanting new leases first, said Claudia Ravaschiere, an artist who works at 63 Melcher St., and represents other artists in the Fort Point Arts Community group.

Now, without the leverage of an approval by a city agency, the artists are worried they have less power in their negotiations with the developers. Ravaschiere said about 20 leases covering 170 artists in all are involved, although some have moved out in anticipation of being displaced by the renovation work.

But Albert M. Price, managing director of Goldman Properties, said yesterday that one of the 20 leases in question is already signed, and his company has agreed to the terms the tenants wanted on the rest.

``We've been negotiating in good faith with" the Fort Point Artists Community ``for many, many months," he said. ``The BRA and mayor have made it very clear to us this is a priority, and we agree. We really want this neighborhood to remain a rich, creative neighborhood," he added.

Goldman, which has redeveloped urban buildings in New York's SoHo and in Florida's South Beach , plans to turn the two Summer Street buildings into 88 luxury condos, including five glass penthouse residences on top. Those conversions are the first steps in a plan to turn 10 of the brick-and-beam warehouses around Summer and A streets into a hip community of homes , restaurants, shops, and galleries.

But Ravaschiere said she and other artists have not seen most of the final lease documents to determine whether they are acceptable.

Some of the artists contend the developers will end up displacing the very people who made the Fort Point neighborhood a desirable address. ``Archon/Goldman are sorely mistaken if they believe they can move artists into generic spaces -- or worse, if they believe they can displace artists, build generic spaces, and then have artists to return and pay much higher rents!" Ken Pierce, a dancer and choreographer, and one of many local artists who wrote to the BRA in May to protest the timing of city approvals.

The BRA received more than 100 letters before it voted, many of them asking that approval be put off until some agreement had been reached with the artists -- and expressing unhappiness at the tone of dealings with the developers.

Tom Miller, the BRA's director of economic development, is the city's manager for the project. He said the city recognized there was a problem about six months ago, and, ``I jumped into the middle of the fray" to mediate .

But, Miller added, ``I never guaranteed I would hold up everything till everybody was satisfied. I said I would work with them to get a fair and honest deal. I thought we had agreed."

Miller said Archon/Goldman not only settled for a small rise in rents that he said were already low for the neighborhood but also agreed to lease extensions.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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