This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/27/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Governor pushes for harbor deal
Cellucci orders 'timely' review of building plan

By Frank Phillips and Steven Wilmsen, Globe Staff

As tensions grow between Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Governor Paul Cellucci over the fate of Boston's waterfront development, Cellucci is directing his environmental chief to reach a compromise with developer Nicholas Pritzker, who has proposed a $1.2 billion project for the area.

Cellucci aides said the governor sent a message to Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand to give the controversial project a ''comprehensive and timely'' review, and work out any outstanding issues with Pritzker.

The governor, however, is seeking to make it clear that Durand will not bow to pressure from Menino and his staff to quickly rubber-stamp the project to appease the developer. Pritzker last week threatened to withdraw his plan if Durand did not approve it by Nov. 15.

The governor and his aides became concerned that Menino operatives were leaking reports that Cellucci ordered Durand to quickly sign off on the development.

The intensifying tensions come as the proposal to build on one of Boston's last open spaces - a massive development Menino feels will help define his legacy - faces one of its final hurdles.

Pritzker, whose Chicago-based family built the Hyatt hotel chain, said last week he could not proceed with the project unless Durand approved it by Nov. 15, a deadline that Cellucci administration officials say probably won't be met. But they said they expect that the review will be completed no later than mid-December.

Administration sources said the situation has been aggravated by reports that the governor does not have confidence in Durand. Durand has expressed concerns that the Pritzker project limits public access to the waterfront.

A community newspaper, South Boston Online, which has strong City Hall ties, stated last week that Cellucci endorses the development and will instruct Durand to approve it and that the secretary will ''cave to pressure.'' John P. Rooney, brother of James Rooney, Menino's chief of staff, is co-owner of South Boston Online.

Administration officials say the reports undermine Durand's ability to review the project, and may be the reason why Pritzker family representatives had initially balked at meeting with Durand, sources said.

Menino last night strongly denied there are problems between him and the governor. He also said City Hall has not tried to undercut Durand, and said he supports the environmental secretary's independence in reviewing the South Boston development.

''Nobody instructs Bob Durand,'' Menino said. ''Durand is too far into this and can't just rubber-stamp it.''

Menino also suggested that reports of tension between him and Cellucci are fabricated.

''I don't feel any tension,'' Menino said. ''But if they want to build up a crisis, let them build up a crisis. What's at stake here is a national developer walking on us. What kind of signals does that send?''

Administration officials declined to comment about the developing friction with City Hall. But Stephen O'Neill, Cellucci's chief of staff, yesterday signaled a strong gubernatorial endorsement for Durand. He said Cellucci told Durand to undertake a full examination of the development plans, which include nine blocks of condos, offices and hotels.

''The governor feels strongly there has to be a process,'' said O'Neill. ''Durand is under legal obligations he must meet and he has the governor's full support.''

The city has submitted its harbor plan, which includes Pritzker's project, to Durand, who must review it under Chapter 91, the state law that governs building along the waterfront. The law dictates the state must put public access before private profit when considering such development.

O'Neill said Cellucci will support Durand's decision. Durand, a former Democratic state senator from Marlborough, is a boyhood friend of Cellucci's. Environmentalists, who generally approve of Durand, became concerned about his independence earlier this year when the governor refused to sign a Durand pet project, a measure to help communities buy land. A compromise bill was later passed and Cellucci approved it.

Cellucci's endorsement of Durand comes after he and Menino reportedly exchanged sharp words over the waterfront two weeks ago. According to administration sources, the angry conversations centered around what Cellucci felt was the mayor's demands that he order Durand to approve the project quickly.

''Menino took a [fit] on the phone,'' said one source.

Those sources said that after the outburst, Cellucci fired back at Menino, accusing him of publicly deriding administration initiatives such as expansion of runways at Logan Airport and a low-cost housing program.

Menino brushed off the report that he and Cellucci had sharp words. ''It was not heated,'' Menino said. ''He has one position and I have another. We ended the conversation by saying we would get together.''

Meanwhile, Pritzker, abandoning his earlier threats, now says he is willing to personally sit down with Durand to negotiate possible changes to the project.

''We're willing to hear any suggestions,'' said Dan O'Connell, Pritzker's point man at Spaulding & Slye Colliers.

Last week, Pritzker had pointedly refused Durand's invitation to join other waterfront developers and key opponents in reaching a compromise. At the same time, Pritzker infuriated Durand with his threats to abandon the waterfront plan.

City officials and project players scrambled behind the scenes to salvage what appeared to be badly deteriorating relations between the developer and Durand.

Pritzker is still unwilling to have private negotiations with other developers and plan opponents, as Durand had first proposed, O'Connell said. But in a sign of conciliation, he said the developer is prepared to allow the city to negotiate changes on Pritzker's behalf in upcoming public meetings. And sources said Pritzker's analysts have begun poring over financial data to determine ''do-able'' concessions.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 10/27/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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