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State rejects proposals for Pike property

Food market plans are back at square one

By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / September 18, 2009

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An effort to open a public food market in a vacant parking garage and office building in downtown Boston will start from scratch after state officials rejected the only two proposals they received for redeveloping the property.

Peter O’Connor, head of real estate for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said yesterday the two bidders did not offer to pay enough rent for use of the agency’s property, known as the Parcel 7 building, which is located at the corner of Hanover and Blackstone streets, next to the weekend gathering of Haymarket pushcart vendors.

The agency has asked bidders for proposals that would both use the building’s office space and establish a public market on its ground-floor retail space. Now the turnpike is considering soliciting separate bids for the facility’s retail and office space, O’Connor said. “The idea is that the building will be more appealing if we market its components to different people,’’ O’Connor said.

He said the rents offered by Hersha Group of Pennsylvania and WinnCompanies of Boston were so low because they were being required to pay to build the public market. The initial request for bids was drafted last October by officials who have since left the turnpike.

An executive at WinnCompanies said he will try to persuade the turnpike to accept the company’s proposal to build the market and move its corporate offices into the building’s upper floors.

“We remain hopeful that we can reach agreement on a solution that can quickly place this dark and dormant building back on the city tax rolls, avoiding months or years of additional delay,’’ said Gilbert Winn, managing principal of WinnCompanies.

Executives at Hersha Group, which proposed to build a hotel above the ground-floor food market, did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

But the turnpike’s decision to start the process over will further delay the city’s efforts to create an expanded market district between City Hall and the North End. Boston is one of the few major US cities without a daily public market for local farmers, bakers, and other food sellers. The last traditional market closed in the 1950s, when buildings in Faneuil Hall Marketplace fell so deeply into disrepair that the federal government threatened to close them, forcing most of the vendors to leave.

The market would be located in the Parcel 7 building and on an adjacent parcel that is now vacant. The turnpike is also soliciting proposals to develop the vacant parcel with a public market component, and expects to name a winning bidder at its meeting in October, O’Connor said. City officials have recommended that either apartments or a museum on local history be built above the market on that land.

Meanwhile North End residents said they are frustrated with the delays at the Parcel 7 building, which has been vacant since it was built more than five years ago as part of the Big Dig.

“We keep hearing these grand plans for the area, but the building is underutilized and it’s not being maintained,’’ said David Kubiak of the North End Waterfront Residents’ Association. “It’s still the turnpike’s building, and they should be taking care of it.’’

O’Connor said the turnpike will dispatch work crews to clean the food-splattered exterior of the building and remove trash that residents say frequently piles up on the sidewalk.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.