This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Getting to yes
By Steve Bailey, Globe Staff

It's time to turn the volume down if we're going to get anything done on the waterfront. And we all want that.

''No'' is always easy. Getting to ''yes'' takes more creativity. But we have come too far to fail. The differences between us are less than all the noise would suggest.

It does feel like a mess. Mr. Pritzker is threatening to take his checkbook and go home. The developer of the $268 million convention center headquarters hotel is threatening to do the same. The deal to funnel linkage millions into South Boston has melted down into an ugly grudge match between the mayor and the council president.

Now, however, is exactly the wrong moment to walk.

Over the last two days I sat through painful hours of meetings of the Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee, a group that the mayor named to oversee waterfront development. What I saw were people who were serious about helping shape Boston's new frontier. They came with handmade maps and charts, asked good questions, and lunched on chocolate chip cookies and Cokes. What I did not see was anyone who wanted to kill Mr. Pritzker's Fan Pier project. Just the opposite, in fact, was the case: They were there to help it succeed.

The public conversation has degenerated into silly caricatures of ''urban'' vs. ''suburban'' visions for the waterfront. Of trying to turn Boston into Duxbury. Of barren, windswept parks. Of demands for ''radical'' changes being dictated by Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand in Mr. Pritzker's plans.

Get a grip. The fact is, everyone in this conversation wants a dense, lively urban waterfront. The only question is, how dense is dense? Durand's changes would cut the Pritzker development to about 2.7 million square feet from 3.3 million square feet, equal to two Prudential Centers. Duxbury it's not.

All these months later, the debate now centers on a single parcel where Mr. Pritzker wants a building and Durand and his allies want Fan Pier's signature park. Mr. Pritzker's planners say the park would become as barren as City Hall Plaza. Please: City Hall Plaza is 9 acres; the Fan Pier park a mere 2 acres, or about the size of the Copley Square park. A vast expanse it's not.

Durand's recommendations are not all I would have wanted. But they are a reasonable framework for compromise. The issue now: Is the project viable with the cuts proposed by Durand? It is hard to know, because Mr. Pritzker has refused to open his books to anyone beyond his partner, the mayor.

At this very moment, behind the scenes, the mayor is playing a useful role in moving the convention center hotel ahead. With the project in trouble, the mayor is forcing the convention center authority and the developer to squeeze out costs. If needed, you are going to see the city step forward, appropriately, with a 121A tax break to fill the final gap.

The mayor should adopt a similar strategy on Fan Pier. Rather than spending lots of energy strong-arming his critics, the mayor should consider helping to fill the gap on Fan Pier, too, if necessary. The need to build big has everything to do with the $75 million in costs Mr. Pritzker has assumed for streets, sidewalks and parks. If, in fact, the mayor is convinced the developers cannot afford the park, he should be willing to assume some of the costs. Or he could help to organize a private trust that could build and maintain the park, as happened with our beloved Post Office Square Park.

Public dollars for public amenities is not a particularly radical concept, after all.

Fan Pier is too close. It is too important to let fail now. Mr. Pritzker should understand, in no uncertain terms, that Boston wants Fan Pier developed - but we will expect it to be respected, like the treasured family jewel it is.

You can reach me at 617-929-2902 or

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.