Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gave his take on the Nazzaro Center building and prospects for a new community center, in an interview this week with NorthEndWaterfront.com.

Mayor Walsh said he has been surprised about the concerns regarding the current Nazzaro Center building. “The Nazzaro Center building is a beautiful building. If we were to build a new Nazzaro Center somewhere else in the North End, I would work with the community on what would happen with the current building. I would certainly not want to put something there that the community does not want,” said the mayor.

Community Center Map Sites Proposed by City Consultants in October 2018

City consultants looked at six initial sites for a new community center presented at an October 2018 public meeting, and recommended three for pricing: (1) Mirabella Pool House, (2) Sargent’s Wharf and (3) expanding the existing Nazzaro building. A fourth site, the Fulton Street parking lot, was highlighted by residents at the meeting as a location also worth reconsidering.

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A brand new community center could cost upwards of $30 million and the mayor is perplexed why North Enders would turn that down. “[The North End] is the only neighborhood that I know where there are people opposed to building a new, state-of-the-art facility for our young people in the community,” said Walsh regarding criticism that surfaced at the October meeting. “Sal LaMattina came to me years ago when he was councilor to do a study to find a place where kids could play and hang out in a new North End complex. We are moving forward with that.”

“I never, ever said we are selling the Nazzaro Center building. We are not in the habit of selling our properties, in my administration.” -Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

At least two opposition groups have emerged, one is against the site in front of the Mirabella Pool. More recently, a “Save the Nazzaro” group has been actively soliciting signatures to protect the current building’s exterior and dimensions. The latter group has also submitted a petition to the Boston Landmark Commission. On that front, Walsh said, “You can landmark the building, but you cannot landmark the Nazzaro Center,” implying the name could travel to a new location.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks at a past event at the Nazzaro Center gym

As for the building that is there, Walsh said he would work with the community on whatever makes sense to put there. He is open to a senior center, housing or other options. “We’re not just going to sell the current building to make money,” he emphasized. “There is a lot of misinformation going around.”

“I never, ever said we are selling the Nazzaro Center building,” Walsh said emphatically. “We are not in the habit of selling our properties, in my administration.” He noted the exception of selling the Winthrop Square Garage “because it was a condemned garage that would never be rebuilt again. But in general, we want to keep city property. You never know what we might need space for down the road, such as schools, housing or community centers.”

When asked about discussions with the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), Walsh said he has not talked to the agency about potential BPDA sites, including Sargent’s Wharf and the Fulton Street parking lot. “There is a community process. We are looking at different sites,” Walsh said.

Walsh repeated that he was “taken aback there is such pushback” to the study. “We are only talking about building a new community center for our kids. Honestly, there is an opportunity here to do a lot of great things.” he added.

The mayor also spoke of his efforts to bring new community spaces to other neighborhoods in the city. In East Boston, the city refurbished and expanded the Parrish St. gym. There is a new center on Vine Street in Roxbury and the Gallivan Blvd site was done over in Mattapan. He noted that several other community centers are set for refurbishment.

“At the end of the day, our kids in Boston deserve to have state of the art facilities,” Walsh concluded.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I think everyone would agree that the children and community deserve a new community center. The issue is the lack of community involvement surrounding the site selection process. Just as much is the kids deserve a community center they deserve the swimming pools to remain, a center that is conveniently located and one that will be maintainable for years to come as sea levels rise.

  2. Thank you so much, Matt! We are delighted that the Mayor is ready to work with the community to determine the future of the Nazzaro building! We think there will be a win-win on this issue and are happy to work with the Mayor to make that happen. To be absolutely clear: NO ONE is opposed to having the city build a state of the art community center building that Mayor Walsh has promised to the North End! We are united on supporting the new community center! We certainly need that AND a renovation of the existing Nazzaro Center building inside. A team of architects from the Boston Architectural College is ready to donate their time with the Nazzaro staff to rethink the design inside the Nazzaro building, even as the new community center is added in a new place. We need both facilities! The only questions are: where will the new building be, and what will happen to the existing Nazzaro building on North Bennet Street. We are asking the mayor to Landmark the Nazzaro Building to back up his promise not to tear it down, since the city suggested demolition as one of the three possibilities to build the new center (That option would still be too small, the city architects said, even if they take over Polcari Playground!) . Come speak out to protect the historic Nazzaro building, at the public Landmarks hearing, which is at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at room 900 of Boston City Hall! Landmarking will protect only the existing outside structure and the open space of the Polcari Playground. The mayor could still sell the Nazzaro building for private use, gut it inside and fix it up for new uses even if the building is Landmarked. Landmarking should not have anything to do with the new community center plans, or fixing up the inside of the Nazzaro building. For more information see http://www.savethenazzaro.org

  3. “[The North End] is the only neighborhood that I know where there are people opposed to building a new, state-of-the-art facility for our young people in the community,” said Walsh regarding criticism that surfaced at the October meeting.

    WHAT? No one…and I mean not one single person anyone has spoken to about this subject, is “opposed to building a new, state-of-the-art facility for our young people in the community,”

    The Mayor is starting to worry me…he’s getting fed misinformation.

    • Actually, Gary F., there has been a TON of opposition because people in the North End don’t like change. If you were at the meeting, people spoke against doing anything at any of the sites. The Save the Nazzaro crew was there in force, and people spoke against the Mirabella site (too big a street to cross) and they didn’t like Sargents Wharf (too far, too waterfront, would have to be built high b/c of flooding, etc.). And wait until the Save Lewis Wharf gang comes out to stop anything at Sargents Wharf. There were postcards sent out opposing the Mirabella Pool site.

      You can’t have a new state of the art anything without a location. The Mayor is right. People here will argue against sunny days.

  4. The biggest win for everyone involved, including the North End community and Mayor Walsh, will be a plan that results in BOTH the new state of the art community center that the North End needs AND preservation of the Nazzaro Building (i.e., the North Bennet Street Bathhouse) as a historic resource. There is no real opposition to either of these goals — no one is opposing a new community center and no one is pursuing the demolition of the Nazzaro Building. In fact, there is overwhelming support in the neighborhood for both the new community center and preservation of the Nazzaro Building.
    And the two goals are not incompatible, since the Sasaki study concluded that the current site of the Nazzaro Center was too small for a community center sufficient to meet the community’s needs. Designation of the Nazzaro Building as a Boston Landmark would still allow any possible uses of that building. Of course, as Mayor Walsh indicates, more community and administrative process is involved here, but maybe we can all work toward a solution that meets both goals.

  5. Who is Mayor Walsh getting his information from? As Gary stated, there is not a single person who is opposed to a new facility. Residents have been extremely vocal about this. Yes, there is disagreement about the best location and hopefully once a decision is made, residents will whole heartedly support it and not try to interfere with the process. We deserve both a state of the art community center and the restoration and preservation of the current building. This community should not settle for anything less.
    If Mr. Walsh was “taken aback by there is such pushback of the study”, then maybe he should come and listen in person to the voices of the families, residents, neighborhood organizations and others who use the Nazzaro Center on a daily basis.
    His comments highlight a huge disconnect between the North End neighborhood and the Mayor’s office. This is truly concerning.

  6. The arguements don’t imply that the North End doesn’t want a new community center,. The arguements surround brick and mortor issues like where and how. With the street infested with used needles and degenerates, there is no question that kids need a place to go. Right? Look at the alternatives. Given that type of urgency, a decision needs to be made quickly. The adults with their attachment to legacy need to step aside and arrive at some decision quickly.. This is something that can’t drag on. As far as the Mayor’s lament that no one wants it here, this pure baloney. He’s trying to avoid a decision and is not weighing in or facilitating a decision. In the end, he won’t be everyone’s pal. But then again he signed up for an executive position

  7. This is deja vu all over again! The Christopher Columbus Youth Center was gobbled up by developers. In its day (50’s) it was considered a “state of the art” facility. It would have been the best location for demolition and re-do for a sorely needed upgraded youth facility. The Nazzaro Center building(i.e. North Bennet Street Bathhouse) is architecturally iconic and should unquestionably be considered a Boston Landmark. That said, we cannot make history repeat itself by demolishing an authentic piece of turn of the previous century architecture.

  8. Matt, Many thanks for interviewing the Mayor. We are fortunate to have your newsletter and your reporting. Keep up your great work and that of your assistants.

  9. We need a group that just advocates FOR a new community center. Ms Hume and her group can work on the status of the old building. I think she’s hurting the cause and will selfishly block a new center that is desperaty needed. It would be one thing if the Nazzaro was in any shape to save as a rec center. It’s not. That doesn’t mean it can’t have other neighborhood purposes. Ms. Hume and her group can advocate for that. We need a no nonsense group to get it done. Our kids can’t continue using away resources bc the Nazzaro doesn’t provide what other city community centers do.

    • NOBODY is against a new community center. People are against moving it to the waterfront and seeing the Nazzaro building demolished and replaced with condos. Personally I would like to see the existing building turned into a senior center with programming that goes beyond bingo and a community meeting space that is convenient to most people. We do need a state of the art community center with a proper basketball court for the kids and whatever else the center director, parents. and kids want and/or need that is within the budget.

    • Thank you, Ellen Hume, for leading efforts to preserve the Nazzaro Center building and community uses in it, as you and all of us also support the building of a new community center.

  10. Gee, would t it be great if the city owned a large, undeveloped plot of land where a center could be built without compromising on concerns re waterfront development, ie sea level rise and walking off the harbor?

    Oh, the City has this! It’s an open parking lot on Fulton St.!

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