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This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on Friday, February 22, 2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

Boston Fish Pier tenants get new deal
Development fears persist at prime site
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff, Friday, February 22, 2002

Officials at the Massachusetts Port Authority agreed yesterday to negotiate new leases with tenants of the Boston Fish Pier, preserving one of the city's century-old links to the working sea - for the time being.

Tenants of the historic concrete slab in Boston Harbor fear that the authority may ultimately cut those ties amid a growing financial crisis - and the pier's increasing value as real estate.

"We're all in this here together," said Sal Patania, owner of pier-based Ideal Seafood. "All of us [on the pier] contribute to a piece of the puzzle and they don't understand that."

Massport's commitment to the pier came after tenants urged the Massport Board of Commissioners to extend all their leases for 25 years.

The board discussed the issue behind closed doors, and then announced that it would offer some tenants new leases that could extend into 2027.

In a statement, board members said Massport "remains committed to ensure that various facilities, including the Boston Fish Pier, will continue to be available to support the commercial fishing industry in Boston Harbor."

But they also left the door open to future change.

In the same statement, Massport officials said they will periodically review this policy in light of the agency's core mission, "including, but not limited to, the need for operational and capital improvement subsidies."

Members of the small urban fishing community were relieved, but skeptical.

They have long suspected that Massport wants to sell the pier for development, particularly as the area around it is being transformed into a new, upscale and potentially lucrative section of downtown Boston.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino joined attorneys from the Conservation Law Foundation to demand Massport sign the pier's commercial tenants to long-term leases.

"Your passive approach to these local small businesses is clearly an effort to garner more money from future upscale office tenants," Menino wrote to Massport's acting executive director, Thomas J. Kinton Jr., before yesterday's decision. "In my view, it is irresponsible and disingenuous."

The Conservation Law Foundation's Seth Kaplan said late yesterday that he was pleased with Massport's decision but wants to make sure the agency does not "cherry pick" tenants away from the pier, extending some leases but letting others expire. That strategy could ultimately destroy the pier's interdependent business community.

"What we have at this point is words," he said. "They're good words . . . but they're words nonetheless."

The pier is located amid what has become some of Boston's prime real estate, with sweeping views of the city skyline.

Once America's largest fish market, it remains the East Coast's oldest fish exchange, albeit one of the smallest.

With the collapse of the region's fish stocks, most of the local fish bought and sold in Boston are now trucked or flown in from nearby Logan International Airport, and the pier, which depends on fish caught locally, has suffered. But with predictions of a rebound of offshore stocks, Menino, the law foundation, and the tenants argue that it must remain a working commercial pier.

Still, Massport is facing $51 million in cuts, a financially unstable future, and years of subsidizing the pier at a loss.

Since Massport assumed management 30 years ago, the pier has lost more than $2 million, Massport officials said, including more than $100,000 last year.

Nevertheless, Mark E. Robinson, Massport's board chairman, said the agency doesn't believe a working fish pier will hinder development, and is not worried that the odor will permeate the nearby Boston convention center.

He insisted that the agency doesn't want to turn the pier into a sanitized city theme park.

"There is no effort by Massport to destroy the fish industry or drive the fish industry out of the Port of Boston," said Robinson. "The challenge here . . . is to develop a symbiotic relationship."

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on Friday, February 22, 2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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