In the public comment period of the September 1st Annual Meeting of the Greenway Conservancy, I summarized my comments on their proposed improvement and development protocols, imploring the Conservancy to incorporate basic conflict of interest language in their guidelines to stop a slippery slope that has already raised ire in the community. As a private organization, the Conservancy has a financial need to generate revenue. Developers and interested parties are more than happy to “donate” in exchange for Conservancy support. This creates a significant incentive for the Conservancy to favor projects that help their budget rather than the Greenway parks or the public interest.
The most contentious exchange at the meeting was about the Conservancy’s cozy relationship with the Chiofaro Company, the developer that has proposed an oversized two tower development at the Harbor Garage site. (See “What is the Quid Pro Quo between the Conservancy and Chiofaro?”). Chair Mr. Meade has previously made it clear he sees no problem with the Conservancy’s renting out the Greenway’s public parks to a developer for a promotional event designed to gain public support with flyers, t-shirts, live music, stages and free food. This event on the Wharf District parks was held in mid-July during the public comment period for the project.
How could the Conservancy say no? After all, Chiofaro is a huge contributor to the Conservancy’s stretched budget, mostly through his gift of free office space since their inception that is valued at over $400,000 per year. Is this how the Conservancy is going to “independently” review development proposals along the Greenway? Obviously, Mr. Meade and I went to different ethics classes.
Besides Chiofaro’s towers, perhaps Mr. Meade is concerned about the Raymond Company, a large client of his PR firm. He works as managing director for Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, the PR firm for the Raymond Company’s Government Center Garage redevelopment, another Greenway abutter. (See the Boston Herald’s “Shadows over Greenway, Conservancy chairman works for builder’s PR firm.”) There are also news reports that the Conservancy is receiving some type of contribution from the developer of the Dainty Dot building in the Leather District.
The Conservancy was further perplexed by my request that their protocols encourage projects that enhance “free and public use” of the parks rather than their stated goal of enhancing “event capacity.” Regular readers will remember the debate on event guidelines earlier in the summer. While there were some modest improvements in that document toward public use, the guidelines still read like a brochure for event planners so the Conservancy can generate revenue by renting the parks through unlimited large-scale, sponsored events. (See “Greenway Conservancy Revises Park Guidelines; Little Improvement for Public” and the Boston Herald’s “Rent-A-Park Plan“.)
The other major point of my comment letter on their improvement/development guidelines is to include the relevant neighborhood groups in their analysis and review process. There are several proposals on the drawing board for parcel improvements such as a Harbor Islands Pavilion, a potted tree parcel near the North End, among many others to come. The introduction of their documents generally start with glorious language about how they want to integrate the parks with the surrounding environment. But the process leaves out any requirement to communicate with the neighborhoods, the backbone of the Greenway community.
Some rays of hope:
- The public seems to be waking up to the reality of what it means to have this private, non-profit running our Greenway parks. Attendence was high at last night’s meeting with many outspoken participants. With some better communication from the Conservancy, transparency can only increase from here.
- I am impressed with several of the members on the Greenway Leadership Council. The GLC is the governing body set up by legislation to oversee the Conservancy. Several members seemed to genuinely care about ‘doing the right thing’. Although their power is largely advisory, I hope they will have the courage to question the power figures in and around the Conservancy.
- Nancy Brennan, Executive Director, had some thoughtful responses to last night’s public comments, though it is difficult to separate the style and substance of her remarks. She has some difficult decisions coming her way and I wish she would translate her broad statements into the details that make up the Conservancy’s written guidelines and protocols. It will be important to watch how she communicates with the neighborhood groups.
- The Conservancy is finally giving up its offices at Chiofaro’s International Place and moving to 185 Kneeland Street.