This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 3/24/2000.
Developer eyes unified approach on waterfront
McCourt plan would combine sites into one megaproperty
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 3/25/2000
In an unusual alliance, developer Frank McCourt has teamed up with a leading environmental group to pitch a new approach to developing the South Boston Waterfront: creating one single megaproperty where he and another major landowner would share in all revenues, so tall buildings could be located in the most appropriate places.
According to sources familiar with the proposal, the 16-acre property owned by the Chicago-based Pritzker family on Fan Pier and the adjacent 25-acre property owned by McCourt would, in a financial and legal sense, be combined.
The Pritzkers, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain, would reduce the size of their current, nine-block proposal for Fan Pier, allowing more parkland and a museum close to the water. In exchange, the Pritzkers would share in revenues from big office and residential buildings on McCourt's land, further inland.
McCourt would, in turn, share in the revenues generated by remaining development - lower-scaled hotels and condominiums, primarily - on the Pritzkers' land.
The high-stakes maneuverings are being played out with billions of dollars and the future look of the city at stake. The South Boston Waterfront has been called Boston's new frontier and is considered some of the most prized real estate in the country. But despite two years of planning by the city, critics have been disappointed with proposals for the area.
To sell the new approach not only to the Pritzkers, who have poor relations with McCourt, but also to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, McCourt has joined forces with the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group that usually plays the role of critic.
Sources said representatives of the foundation, who are expected to pitch the plan alongside McCourt before Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Mark Maloney on Monday morning, plan to say the group will stop threatening lawsuits on waterfront development if the McCourt plan is adopted. Just this week, the foundation threatened to interfere with construction of the Pritzker complex, alleging inadequacies in the Municipal Harbor plan - the city's waterfront development guidelines.
But with the Conservation Law Foundation on board, McCourt plans to show Menino his long-awaited plans for his New Northern Avenue property, sources said. Those plans call for up to 3 million square feet of new development, including offices, residences, and stores.
The proposal would add several city blocks of new development where there are now mostly parking lots, between the Barking Crab restaurant and the entrance to Anthony's Pier 4.
But the McCourt development plans - significantly less than what he could build under current zoning and environmental laws - would only move forward, sources said, if the Pritzkers reduce the size of their $1.2 billion, 3.3 million-square-foot complex so taller buildings are off the waterfront, and agree to the codevelopment rights arrangement.
A spokesman for McCourt declined to comment, saying plans were still being worked on.
An official representing Spaulding & Slye Colliers, the Pritzkers' local partners, said the developers would have no immediate response. The official noted that the idea of multi-landowner cooperation was proposed two years ago but was never acted upon.
Douglas I. Foy, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he agreed not to discuss details of the plan, but said it offered a ''new and creative set of ideas'' for waterfront development.
''We've spent $22 billion in public money, cleaning up the harbor, with the Big Dig, with the Transitway, the convention center, Logan Airport, all of which has teed this opportunity up, for the waterfront,'' Foy said. ''It doesn't matter who owns what down there. It matters what gets built, and how that district unfolds as a great place.
''We are interested in seeing the pieces put together in a coherent way, rather than fragmented parcel by parcel - with one owner with one idea, out of context with the larger picture,'' Foy said.
''This is really what the mayor has been pushing for - a great design for this place. We think there are some fundamental principles in the public realm plan,'' which was issued almost two years ago, ''that were enthusiastically endorsed by lots of people - less density on the Fan Pier site, lower heights, much more parkland, much more housing, and buildings pulled back from the water. We think those are general principles that should apply,'' he said.
Maloney, who just became director of the BRA last month, said he ''look[s] forward to meeting with Frank'' and the Conservation Law Foundation and that ''anything in the world is possible.'' He declined to elaborate until after he saw the detailed proposal, except to note that the Pritzkers have already ''done a good job pulling high buildings back from the water.''
Menino said he would not comment and said Maloney would be the point man on waterfront matters.
The mayor is known to have mixed feelings about McCourt, dating back several years. Menino is also a strong supporter of the Pritzker proposal, since it is the most realistic opportunity for new buildings to go up on the South Boston Waterfront during Menino's term in office.
The mayor also generally forges his own way, rather than accepting plans from others.
One key figure, many observers say, is likely to be state Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand, who is expected to make a frank assessment for Menino on the chances that the current Pritzker plan will make it through the state approval process. Because the planned construction is close to the water, state restrictions under tidelands laws apply.
The Pritzkers are seen as having financial resources to gird for a long approval process if they and Spaulding & Slye do not agree to the McCourt invitation. If the McCourt plan is rejected by the Pritzkers and the city, McCourt could also simply propose more density and taller buildings - which he is now permitted to build, one consultant observing the manueverings said.
Interest in the South Boston Waterfront has intensified in recent months, as the city drafts its Municipal Harbor Plan, and the Pritzkers move deeper into the environmental approval process. In the meantime, the Transitway public transportation line for the area, the $700 million convention center, and the I-90 connector to the Ted Williams Tunnel are all under construction.
Environmental advocates and activists promoting public use of the waterfront say it is a crucial time for decisions on the future of the 1,000-acre district.
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 3/25/2000.
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