Menino seeking green on harbor
Asks Pritzkers to change plans

By Steven Wilmsen, Globe Staff, 5/4/2000

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 5/4/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Making a major move in the political chess game over the remaking of the South Boston Waterfront, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday shocked Chicago's Pritzker family with a request to dramatically increase the amount of green space in its development plan, long backed by the mayor.

The change is a radical alteration in plans that until yesterday appeared set in stone for a 3.3-million-square-foot complex of office buildings, hotels, and condominiums near the water's edge.

It means less commercial space and less revenue for the Pritzkers when the project is completed, and it is broadly viewed as an 11th-hour maneuver to ensure political support.

In his letter to Nicholas Pritzker, Menino said he wants the developer to double the size of an already-planned public square in order to open up views of the water and provide a better public link between a new mass-transit station and the harbor. It would mean ''more green space, better views of the water, lower density, and less commercial space,'' the mayor wrote.

''Our city has too much at stake to let bickering over your property bring the process to a halt,'' Menino said.

The mayor's request, delivered to the Pritzkers late yesterday, falls against a backdrop of fierce backroom negotiations as the city girds for a potential standoff with state environmental regulators, who must approve the city's plan in coming months. It also comes as two powerful developers, the Pritzkers and Boston's Frank H. McCourt, fight over how the land should be used.

The Pritzkers, who just a week ago said they were prepared to move ahead with their plan even under the threat of lawsuits, were taken aback and said they have not yet fully absorbed the meaning of Menino's suggested changes.

''It will have a significant financial impact on this project,'' said Dan O'Connell of Spaulding & Slye Colliers, the Boston firm representing the Pritzkers. ''We've only had a half-hour or so to absorb this, so it is hard to evaluate the overall impact. But we'll see what we can do. We plan to go back to the drawing board. This is a critical moment in this project, and making those required changes will be a challenge.''

The Pritzkers, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain, have spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the city for approval of their plan. Menino has remained squarely behind them.

But this year, McCourt, who owns prime property behind the Pritzker plot, began winning broad support from powerful neighborhood groups, the Conservation Law Foundation, and state regulators by lobbying for more open space and shorter buildings on the Pritzker plot - a parcel near the federal courthouse known as Fan Pier.

Sparser development there means better views of the water from McCourt's property, potentially making it more valuable. If the Pritzker plan goes forward, McCourt has said he would proceed with his own plans for taller, denser development on his property. The Conservation Law Foundation is backing McCourt, threatening a lawsuit if the Pritzker plan proceeds.

McCourt and the Pritzkers will discuss their plans at a Boston City Council hearing today.

McCourt declined to comment before knowing what the changes would do to the overall development. Likewise, officials at the Conservation Law Foundation said it is too early to tell whether the mayor's suggested changes would forestall a lawsuit.

Menino's letter was seen inside and outside City Hall as a nod to McCourt's threat and a political ploy to deflate opposition by the McCourt camp while winning allies at the state level.

Meanwhile, city development officials said they plan to meet with the Pritzkers later in the week to discuss the impact of changes.

''We've been having discussions with them for two years now, and this is another step in that process, a big step,'' said Mark Maloney, director of the Boston Development Authority. ''Everything we've heard from the community suggested we need to do this. We hope we can make it work without making the project financially unfeasible.''

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