This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 4/14/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Squeeze play on the fan pier

The Pritzker family and Frank McCourt are engaged in a furious battle over the Fan Pier, the most important undeveloped site on Boston's waterfront. Yet the Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee, which will recommend zoning changes for the area, has been wrestling with a side issue. It ought to focus on the key issue - which plan would better enhance access to the waterfront.

The Pritzkers say their plan, with its shops, restaurants, and two hotels, makes the pier a popular destination, while McCourt, who wants to put a park next to the federal courthouse, would be recreating the Siberian tundra. Besides, the local Pritzker representatives say, McCourt is relying on a ''retail architect'' who designed Copley Place. The Pritzkers have Ken Greenberg, who heads ''one of the best urban planning firms in the world.''

Greenberg's treatment of the walkway around the cove is strikingly effective, but the weak point of the project remains its bulk - at 3.2 million square feet, barely different from what the Pritzkers first proposed in the 1980s. To make room for public amenities at the cove, the Pritzker team has squeezed buildings close to the courthouse. The massing of these buildings would discourage the public from venturing to the tip of the pier.

For public access, the Pritzkers rely on the two hotels they would build close to the water. Copley Place provides a lesson in the limitations of hotels. Unless someone has a room or an appointment, the Marriott and the Westin serve merely as walkways to other destinations.

McCourt would keep the hotels but push them farther back. In their place would go a four-acre park. And it need not be the windswept desert the Pritzkers imagine. McCourt sees another public building, perhaps a performance space. The venue would be unabashedly public, to get people to the edge of the pier in all weather.

McCourt, a large-scale landowner on the waterfront, is known as a tough bargainer. His property just inland from the Fan Pier would be more valuable if the Pritzkers thinned out their development.

However, his interest and that of the public coincide on the Fan Pier. Less development there would allow more room for the amenities that promote public access. The Menino administration ought to be excited about the prospect of a better plan, but the Boston Redevelopment Authority has already dismissed it and instead is pushing a Municipal Harbor Plan that promotes ''significant density of development ... to create and support the new neighborhood that the inner harbor will become.''

Density is desirable in much of the waterfront district. The key question is whether to concentrate it on the Fan Pier, where, by city policy and state law, public access is the predominant concern. The BRA draft plan was customized to fit the Pritzker proposal.

Members of the Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee spent most of a meeting Wednesday talking about ''offsets'' - compensatory payments that would allow developers to get around state regulations. A few members wondered why they were discussing these when nobody had yet determined what kind of development the committee wanted.

The BRA is discouraging the group from focusing on specific projects, but the Municipal Harbor Plan, which would supplant the state regulations, is essential to implement any development proposal. The Menino administration has a clear preference, largely because the Pritzkers are ready to build, and the mayor wants something underway soon.

Buildings on the Fan Pier will last for 100 years and more. Committee members should shape development there so it is still an adornment to the city as their grandchildren grow old.

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 4/14/2000. © Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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