Printed in the Boston Globe on 2/19/2000

Gillette may buy Waterfront properties

By Richard Kindleberger, Globe Staff, 2/19/2000

Gillette Co. is exploring buying two properties on the South Boston Waterfront in an area where the city plans a mixed neighborhood of housing and industry, sources active in downtown development said yesterday.

Open-space advocates who live in the neighborhood warned that if Gillette succeeds in buying the properties, it would deal a double blow to the city's plans for the Fort Point area.

The properties are a 10-acre parcel just north of the razor company's headquarters on the Fort Point Channel and two former warehouses that Beacon Capital Partners has been redeveloping into 120 residential condominiums.

''They might as well throw the public realm plan in the harbor'' if Gillette buys the properties and thereby chokes plans for housing and green space, said Steve Hollinger of Seaport Alliance for Neighborhood Design.

Valerie Burns, president of the Boston Natural Areas Fund, was similarly pessimistic. Gillette acquiring the properties would ''have a real chill,'' she said. ''I think we have to look at whether the idea this is going to be a real neighborhood is doomed by this kind of move.''

Eric Kraus, a Gillette spokesman, declined to say whether his company has had talks with Beacon Capital and Boston Wharf, owner of the 10-acre parcel. But he said Gillette ''is involved in several activities to protect our interest in South Boston. When we can finalize them we'll talk about them.''

A suit filed by Gillette in August seeks to block Beacon Capital from developing housing in two six-story buildings at Fort Point Place, on Wormwood Street across A Street from the Boston Wharf property. Claiming housing would be incompatible with its manufacturing operation nearby, the company wants to overturn a city ruling that allowed Beacon Capital to build condos there even though the area is zoned for industry.

A Beacon Capital spokesman said Gillette has not made an offer on the buildings. But the possibility of Gillette buying them came up in discussions aimed at settling the court case, according to another development source. That source said Beacon is still fighting the lawsuit and is building the condos ''full bore.''

The Boston Wharf property was a large parking lot until it was excavated to allow tunnel sections for the $12.2 billion Central Artery project. It will be covered once a tunnel is built under it and the channel to connect the Central Artery to the Ted Williams Tunnel.

No one from Boston Wharf could be reached to comment.

Hollinger, a neighborhood resident as well as SAND leader, said residents are ''up in arms'' over the prospect of Gillette acquiring the Boston Wharf property.

''Fort Point has no green space,'' he said. The public realm plan, a master plan issued last February for the South Boston Waterfront, called for a east-west promenade as the area's only green space, according to Hollinger. The promenade would connect the channel with the convention center that is being developed nearby.

Susan Elsbree of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which drew up the public realm plan, said a Gillette purchase of the Boston Wharf property would not rule out development of the promenade. It has always been anticipated that the city would have to work with private owners to develop those kinds of amenities, she said.

But Burns, also a neighborhood resident, was not optimistic the BRA would get the cooperation it needs. She said Gillette is ''so big that really whatever they want seems to be what they can afford to buy and make happen.''

In the last couple of months, Burns said, Gillette has begun talking about creating a technology district near its plant. If housing is ruled out for a large area around the plant, she added, it will make it difficult to build the 4,000 new housing units the city wants to bring life to the waterfront.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 2/19/2000.

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