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Mall plan for bridge site dropped
By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff, and Karen Eschbacher, Globe Correspondent

A controversial proposal to replace the old Northern Avenue bridge with a retail mall has been withdrawn by the developer.

The city has now completely abandoned the idea of such a development, opting instead to demolish the bridge and replace it with a new pedestrian crossing over the Fort Point Channel.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced yesterday the withdrawal of Forest City Enterprises, the company granted a tentative designation to develop the 150,000-square-foot retail mall.

Menino said that replacing the bridge with a retail development was a bad idea in the first place.

''The thing was a huge, massive bridge, twice the size of Faneuil Hall,'' he said. ''In the final analysis, it was much too big, it needed too much subsidy, and it just didn't work.''

The mayor laid responsibility for the mall idea at the feet of departed Boston Redevelopment Authority director Thomas N. O'Brien. ''I didn't make the decision'' to develop a mall, Menino said. ''The former director of the BRA made the decision.''

Forest City had requested more than $6 million in subsidies to complete the project, and other developers would have required a similar investment, which the city could not afford, Menino said.

After six months of discussions with the city, Forest City allowed its tentative designation to expire Thursday. ''So, the idea is just to put the pedestrian walkway in and just move on,'' Menino said.

Tearing down the bridge and replacing it with a new walkway would cost at least $5 million, said Jim Rooney, the mayor's chief of staff.

The walkway will be the same height as the Evelyn Moakley Bridge, opened in 1996, with funds secured by US Representative J. Joseph Moakley, for whose late wife the new bridge is named. He has long favored the demolition of the old bridge, and the city and the BRA have agreed.

Preservationists reacted with mixed feelings to the news that neither they nor Forest City had won the long-running battle over the bridge.

''If Forest City cannot proceed, then we would again be interested in encouraging the city to use the historic structure as a pedestrian link, to work with what we have, not demolish it,'' said Margaret Dyson, president of Historic Massachusetts.

''I think it's actually very good news that we have another chance to look at this issue,'' she said. ''I'd like us all to view it as another chance for preservation.''

Paul Farrell, cochairman of the group Save the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, dismissed the city's assertions that restoring the old bridge would be too costly.

''The city should take the demolition money and combine it with park money to keep the bridge and make it an asset for the city,'' Farrell said.

Like Dyson, he said he feels confident that withdrawal of the Forest City plan will lead to new discussions with the city. This latest news, he said, is further indication the bridge will not come down easily.

''It seems like every plan to demolish it so far has met some roadblock,'' Farrell said. ''And there are additional roadblocks that the city will have to go through.''

One of those roadblocks might be put in place by the federal government.

Demolition of the old bridge could cost the state $16 million that the federal government contributed to the $20 million cost of the new Northern Avenue Bridge, according to a Dec. 9 letter from Highway Commissioner Matthew Amorello to Menino.

This story ran on page B08 of the Boston Globe on 1/1/2000.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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