During this summer's Democratic National Convention, the FleetCenter will be sealed off by a five-block ring of security in which only credentialed delegates, journalists, and authorized police can enter. A far broader swath of downtown will be designated a "soft" security zone, in which some streets will be closed, police will spot-search pedestrians and vehicles, and residents may be asked to carry special identification.
The convention promises to be a signature event for the city, but for the tens of thousands who live or work in the vicinity of the FleetCenter, it also could be a headache, with disruption of activities including subway service, supply deliveries, and restaurant service.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who sees the convention as a rare moment to showcase a world-class town to 35,000 visitors and countless television viewers from around the world, has repeatedly tried to dispel what he calls "an assumption that the city will be locked down."
"You hear a lot of stories about what is being closed down and what might be closed down," Menino told business leaders recently. "We hope to have the city working for everybody. There will be no shutdown in the city. Are there some concerns we have? Yes, there are, but they're all workable."
Still, it's clear that as part of Boston braces for security on a scale it's never seen before, convention organizers are in a balancing act that could determine the event's perceived success or failure. Security at the convention will test the relationship between local and national organizers of the convention, with the desire for airtight security at times conflicting with the city's effort to remain fully functional over four days in July.
Some residents are worried. "It's a convention in a very restricted and crowded place, and thousands of people live here," said Paul Schratter, president of the West End Civic Association and a resident of the Charles River Park apartments on Hawthorne Place. "There's a sense of uncertainty. What's going to happen in the neighborhood? Will we be subject to security checks every time we go in and out of our buildings? Will our cars be allowed on the road?"
Most decisions regarding the zone around the FleetCenter will be in flux until weeks before the event, and many details will never be released publicly because of security considerations. But preliminary details are beginning to emerge, through interviews with convention organizers and meetings between security officials and the residents and business owners who will be most affected.
The tightest security will be in the immediate area of the FleetCenter. A perimeter extending for five blocks on Causeway Street and encircling the arena, North Station, and the Thomas P. O'Neill Federal Building next door will admit only delegates, working media, and employees involved in the convention. They will have to pass through metal detectors and X-ray machines at tightly guarded checkpoints. Even Boston police won't be allowed inside the perimeter unless they have been authorized in advance.
For delegates, organizers are considering a technique used in the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles. Delegates were searched as they entered buses outside their hotels, and the buses were manned by security personnel throughout the day. The delegates were searched again on their way into the arena.
With the exception of police cars and shuttle buses, Causeway Street near the FleetCenter will be closed to vehicles. There's also talk of closing down all or part of the new underground southbound tunnel of Interstate 93, though organizers say they'll probably only have major traffic disruptions on the highway while the presidential nominee is in the FleetCenter.
Cars will be barred altogether from the 11 blocks of storefronts and rowhouses known as the Bulfinch Triangle, bounded by Merrimac, Market, Beverly, and Causeway streets. Trucks delivering food, mail, and other supplies will be restricted to day trips before 2 p.m. To prevent the trucks from getting too close to the FleetCenter, police officials said, the vehicles might be required to park on Valenti Way, where the deliveries can be carried to the businesses throughout the area.
The same area might also be a staging ground for political protesters, who by federal law must be allowed within sight and sound of the convention.
Inside the boundaries of a much larger soft security zone that includes Massachusetts General Hospital, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and City Hall Plaza, there will be heightened police activity, some closed roads, and vehicles and individuals could be searched. Thousands of residents, particularly in West End apartment buildings, may be required to obtain special identification to prove they live in the area.
"You're going to see an awful lot of police -- Boston police, State Police, police from other jurisdictions -- only because we do not have the manpower ourselves to meet our 9/11 obligations," Boston police Superintendent Robert Dunford told residents and business leaders at a meeting to discuss security at the FleetCenter on Tuesday.
The goal is "to minimize the inconvenience for everyone," Dunford said. "We're not in the business of putting you out of business. But if we can't reconcile security interests versus access, security will take precedence."
The North Station MBTA stop will close. Orange Line trains that normally stop there will bypass it. The Green Line, which also stops there, will be closed for construction. Commuter rail lines will stop at a temporary platform short of North Station, though officials say they haven't decided where.
Dunford said a temporary MBTA bus route will loop the area, stopping at Haymarket, Government Center, Cambridge Street, the Longfellow Bridge, and the Lechmere T stop. It's not yet clear how bus services that residents use to get groceries will be affected.
Area businesses have grown anxious for plans to be finalized, so they can take appropriate steps to cope.
"One concern that we have or that people in the business community have had is how long do the restrictions apply and what exactly they're going to be," said Bill Fairweather, co-owner of The Greatest Bar in Boston, which will open this spring on Friend Street. "I feel like as long as there's lot of pedestrian traffic in the area, for me, I can work around it."
At least one site in the outer security zone will be set aside for protesters, with a parcel of the by-then dismantled elevated artery being eyed for that purpose. Of course, there will be a crush of out-of-towners milling about, and residents are also concerned about talk that bars in the area will be allowed to extend their hours.
"It will take over our neighborhood," said Bob O'Brien, president of the Downtown North Association. "My real concern is that people will do a lot of things in the name of security that doesn't have anything to do with security."
Schratter, of the West End Civic Association, said he has already figured out how he's going to cope: He's leaving town for the week.
"I'm deliberately going to be on vacation then," Schratter said.