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Residents get say in plans for downtown Boston markets

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  February 25, 2011 04:47 PM

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Haymarket concepts.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for

This poster shows some of the design concepts for an updated Haymarket proposed by architect David Chilinski at a recent meeting. In addition to offering three options for arranging vendor stalls, Chiliniski proposed a set of retractable awnings (seen at lower right) to cover the workers.

Downtown Boston could soon see both a brand-new public market and dramatic changes to its 180-year-old Haymarket, and officials are soliciting the public's opinion to guide them.

In meetings this week and last, planners shared preliminary design concepts and requested feedback, even hosting brainstorming sessions for city residents and workers to decide what features they want to see in a new public market the agency hopes will be a major destination.

At a Feb. 16 meeting of an advisory committee of North End, Waterfront, West End and Beacon Hill stakeholders, architect David Chilinski presented three possible design solutions for the Haymarket area. Each offered a substantially different scheme for building on the vacant triangular lot northwest of Haymarket, while maintaining the current number of vendor stalls and allowing for on-site storage and trash Dumpsters.

In the first concept, the arrangement of venders would remain much the same, while a small service road would cut through the structure built on the lot to allow for deliveries, storage and trash removal and to serve as a fire lane. In the second and third, Blackstone Street would be the fire lane, and the vendor stalls immediately adjacent to the Blackstone block would be incorporated into the first floor of the new building, freeing up the tight space next to the building to allow greater frontage for the buildings inside and more strolling room for shoppers and tourists.

By creating indoor, permanent vendor stalls, concepts two and three would allow for sales to expand past the weekend and perhaps create a five-, six- or seven-day market in the space, depending on vendor interest. Chilinski suggested that some permanent infrastructure — such as an overhead beam with retractable awnings — could make setup and breakdown of the market easier and faster and reduce the need for on-site storage.

Meeting attendees had questions about details of the three schemes, but the overall response was positive. Bob O’Brien, a member of the subcommittee that worked with Chilinski on the designs, stressed that they were intended only to demonstrate that it was possible to build on the site without hurting Haymarket.

“I don’t think the idea was to come up with some single alternative that would optimally solve the problem,” O’Brien said. “Rather, it was to show that there was at least one alternative and hopefully more where the needs of Haymarket could be satisfactorily addressed and resolved in the context of the larger development.”

O’Brien said that the concept sketches showed that the goal was attainable and made it necessary for any developer who wanted to build on the site to use a similar solution or come up with better one.

In a community workshop on Feb. 23, community members worked in small groups to discuss the merchandise, appearance and activities they would like see in the public market planned for the first floor of the building at the corner of Hanover and Blackstone streets, which has been empty since its construction about a decade ago.

After a brief presentation on the key qualities of a successful public market led by representatives from New York-based Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit consulting firm, more than 100 community members brainstormed about their ideal public market.

Several said they hoped the space would have a historic feel, in keeping with Boston’s nearly 400-year history and its long tradition of public markets. Many mentioned a desire for educational activities, especially those aimed at young children, from cooking demonstrations to cow-milking and sheep-shearing.

Attendees asked that the market carry products ranging from the obvious — such as locally grown produce and freshly caught fish — to handmade chocolates, locally made knives and kitchen tools, honey bottled by area beekeepers, cookbooks by Boston chefs, local wines and beers brewed in an on-site microbrewery.

Some stressed that a variety of products would keep the market lively even in winter. “The main thing that we were specifying was that it’s very important that this not just be a seasonal market in the sense that it’s only useful to us six months out of the year,” one man said, noting that his team had listed year-round products including fish, meat, poultry and baked goods — especially pies.

The man elicited cries from some neighborhood residents when he declared, “There’s not really a great pasta shop in all of the North End anymore, unfortunately.”

The workshop attendees generated a great number and variety of suggestions, but with only 27,000 square feet of usable space on the building’s first floor, some of those ideas will remain just that. A meeting held Thursday afternoon for prospective vendors at the market may help determine some of the options that will be available, but it will still be months before Bostonians can be sure what to expect.

The Project for Public Spaces will continue their research through March and in April will deliver their final recommendations to the community advisory committee and the consortium of state and city agencies collaborating in the planning process. After that, the bidding process for market management will begin, with an end date yet to be determined.

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(Jeremy C. Fox for

At the workshop on Feb. 23, Nancy Chew, David Roderick, Rosemary Saeed and Caitlin McCaffery (from left) joined more than 100 other community residents and downtown workers to brainstorm ideas for a new public market.

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