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Careful steps on development

Editorial, Globe Staff, 02/09/00

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino usually sees the trap as well as the bait in most development situations. Yesterday, he wisely reminded business leaders at a Boston Municipal Research Bureau lunch that he will be "treading very carefully" when it comes to public investment in a new Fenway Park.

Unlike Baltimore, where city and state funds paid for 80 percent of a new baseball stadium, the Fenway area is not that desperate for a development fix. City financing, Menino said, will depend on the public's "share of the return" and improvements along the Boylston Street corridor.

Menino was weaker on the development of the Fan Pier area. While chiding an early plan by the Pritzker development team "that looked more like Chicago than Boston," he laid the groundwork for his own bulky version. Menino is asking the Pritzker development team to limit building heights on the Fan Pier cove to 250 feet. But state environmentalists, waterfront boosters, and nearby residents are not prepared to accept such heights, especially if building density threatens to block the public's view and access to the waterfront. Neither is this page.

The mayor should not be endorsing, or agreeing to, specific height guidelines along the waterfront until he has the opportunity to develop a coordinated plan for the entire stretch between the new federal courthouse and Pier 4, as well as the properties owned by developer Frank McCourt across Northern Avenue.

The mayor was especially crafty on the subject of McCourt, who insists he won't develop his portion of the South Boston waterfront along the sterile model of Kendall Square in Cambridge. Without naming him directly, Menino issued a challenge to the coy McCourt to "step forward" with a plan for a public park at the site. The challenge was well-timed. McCourt is expected to reveal his site plans within the next few weeks.

Any mistakes on Fan Pier will vex Boston for decades to come. The mayor needs to tread carefully where development traps await.

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