Real Estate Transportation

Gov’t Center Garage Searches For Plan; Public School Idea Gets Attention

Stakeholders in the redevelopment of Government Center Garage (GCG) discussed various scenarios as they continue to search for a plan in a process that seems stalled.  Advocates for a public elementary school on the site received strong vocal support from City Councilor Mike Ross at the meeting. The Coalition for Public Education also delivered a letter to owner/developer Raymond Property Group and the GCG’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG). The public meeting took place at City Hall on Monday, November 16, 2009 as part of the IAG’s review process.

An ongoing topic continues to be the public property sites that are owned by the City and largely being assumed to be part of the GCG development. The IAG continues to ask whether this is a realistic assumption. The inconclusive answer from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is that they are “working on the model and valuation to compensate the City for the properties” but do not have any more information to share as to how this process would work. A representative from the public service agencies that reside on the site also expressed frustration at the uncertainty of their destiny.

Peter Gori, BRA Sr. Manager, presented the BRA’s preferred scenario for a scaled massing of the project from 130 feet on the Greenway/North End side up toward 600 feet high toward the JFK Building at Government Center. For reference, the JFK Building is 390 feet high. Two other towers would also be on the site with heights of approximately 400 and 250 feet with a mix of office/residential/hotel use. Gori is heading up the Greenway District Planning Study which includes the GCG property as it relates to the interests of the Greenway.

BRA's Preferred Mass & Density for Gov't Center Garage Redevelopment (From Greenway District Planning Study meeting 9-10-2009)
BRA’s Preferred Mass & Density for Gov’t Center Garage Redevelopment (From Greenway District Planning Study meeting 9-10-2009)

Architects hired for the Greenway District Planning Study noted that in addition to opening up Congress Street (now covered by the garage), their scenario plan would also open up Bowker Street to re-link it from the Bullfinch Triangle through to Beacon Hill. The BRA plan also moves back the towers from the street edges and includes podiums on the streetscapes instead. Ted Raymond thought these podiums were not “high quality space” and would be difficult to economically develop.

The BRA’s plan scales down the original Raymond proposal from 710 feet on the back parcel down to 600 feet. On the front parcel, there seems to be some consensus for height in the 120′-130′ height level. A review of nearby towers indicated a consistent height maximum of 400 feet in the Beacon Hill and West End neighborhoods. The architect noted that a 600 foot tower would pierce this limit for the skyline effect. The BRA plan includes 3.0 million of office square feet compared to the original Raymond proposal of 3.8 million square feet.

The front parcel would be primarily residential which would be closest to the site set aside for the YMCA on Greenway Parcel 6.The unfunded YMCA proposal has a height range of 85′ to 132′. The BRA believes the reduced height on the front parcel protects the Greenway from excessive shadow and wind impacts. The front part of the GCG would continue to include the Haymarket bus station, as it currently exists today.

Both the IAG and Raymond indicated frustration with the process. Ted Raymond indicated that he wants to expedite the review. The IAG concurred that the process is stalled until the questions of the public sites are determined and asked about the economic viability of various uses for the development. It was noted that the BRA’s plan is still 75% office space and members questioned whether that is good for the city versus more residential/hotel/public uses. A North End IAG member reiterated the desire not to bring the financial district closer to the neighborhood, preferring residential development.

City Councilor Mike Ross made a strong statement in favor of having a public elementary school as part of the development. Ross believes that since the project is likely to include existing public land, the benefit should be returned through a school. Further, he would support a higher and denser development if it met the conditions required to house the school. The Councilor used a NYC Murray Hill example where a public school has been included in private developments. District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattina was also present at the meeting.

Members of the Coalition for Public Education also encouraged the developer, officials and IAG to seriously consider a public school as part of the redevelopment. The BRA indicated it has started working with Boston Public Schools to determine the necessary layout and conditions required for a school.
(Click here to read the letter from the Coalition for Public Education.)

Activist Shirley Kressel made four points:
– “The BRA does not have a city-wide or even district-wide plan, which is what the IAG asked for when they invited this presentation to help them think about the project in a bigger context, but is rather playing good-cop by shaving a few feet off the developer’s original proposal.”
– “The IAG is being told to assume development on all three parcels, including the public land, and is being told that this is necessary to spread the developer’s desired square footage over more area to avoid greater heights.”  Kressel pointed out that the developer is not entitled to any particular amount of development, and thought this is a false argument.
– She believes “the BRA will eventually take the City property by eminent domain without compensation, as it has taken City Hall Plaza and other City-owned properties on Mayor Menino’s instructions and with his waiver of compensation, and that the BRA has a conflict of interest in reviewing the project, because by holding the project’s land, it will be a profit partner as it is in other projects in the city, and will collect more ground-lease rent if the buildings are bigger.”
– She said that “the City has enough money to build the schools we need, despite the Mayor’s cries of poverty, and instead of asking developers to build our schools, the City should build one the City parcel if it is an appropriate site, or identify the right site and take it for this use.”

Other residents at the meeting brought up the need to revitalize the GCG area because it can be viewed as an unsafe and unwelcoming to residents that use the area. Comments were made that the issues of height and parking can be worked out, but it is important to move forward. Raymond, owner of the garage, has indicated that a “do nothing” strategy is a fall-back plan because the garage is currently sustainable without modification. The City currently receives about $4 million/year in tax revenue from the garage according to Raymond Property Company, but the new project at full build would increase the tax revenue to approximately $40 million/year.

The GCG’s Impact Advisory Group will not have a December meeting, but will reconvene in January 2010. The clarification of the public sites and the preferred uses of the development are expected to be on the agenda.

See also:
IAG Throws Up Yellow Flag on the Government Center Garage Plan

Note: This post was modified to incorporate corrections/clarifications on Shirley Kressel’s comments and tax/height data provided by the Raymond Property Company.