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This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 4/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

Groups urge early development of public amenities at Fan Pier
By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 4/3/2002

The developers of Fan Pier should create public amenities, such as a park and Harborwalk, early in a construction term that could run 10 years or more, public interest groups have told the state Department of Environmental Affairs.

The push for early construction of public spaces is the main theme in a dozen or so letters from groups and individuals commenting on the Fan Pier Development Corp.'s application for 21 acres of waterfront mixed-use development.

''A sensible way to proceed might be that as soon as any building is built on the site, before that building is occupied certain public realm elements also must be built,'' wrote the Conservation Law Foundation.

Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, said yesterday, ''Our greatest concern is to be sure in the phasing of the project that the public amenities, which will bring people to the waterfront, will occur early on in the project, not 15 years from now.''

Kyle B. Warwick, a principal at Spaulding & Slye Colliers, the local representative of the Pritzker family's Hyatt Development Corp., which owns Fan Pier Development Corp., said comments on plans for 2.9 million square feet in nine buildings were generally positive.

''There were no surprises,'' said Warwick. Though many details must be worked out before state environmental officials approve the license, Warwick said he saw no deal-stoppers.

Richard Schulze, vice chairman of Hyatt Development Corp., said in a statement that the company was committed to ''environmentally sensitive public amenities.''

''Once building construction has begun, we will begin construction of a water transportation facility, a fully accessible harbor walk, and a public green,'' he said.

The public comment period ended last week, and the developers hope for a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection by early summer, with a chance construction could begin late this year. The $1.2 billion project has already received city approvals.

However, the extremely slow commercial real estate market has thrown uncertainty into the Fan Pier plans. The developer now plans two or three major phases before the development - which will include a hotel, offices, condominiums, apartments, retail, and parking - is complete.

Because market conditions and financing for the phases are not nailed down, the developer is seeking a ''consolidated'' approval under the state's Chapter 91 law protecting the harbor. Subsequent individual licenses would be issued as portions of the project, located next to the new federal courthouse, are constructed.

Some of those commenting were leery of the staged development, fearing the considerable amount of indoor and outdoor public space they have won over a long, hard-fought process might not be built until all the condos and offices are full.

''It is essential that the water transportation facility be up and running when the first phase of the project comes on line, no matter how it is phased,'' wrote Save the Harbor/Save the Bay.

Valerie Burns, president of the Boston Natural Areas Network, wrote, ''The complete outdoor public realm is very important to put in place very early in site development and on a clear and accountable schedule.''

Since Fan Pier plans were proposed by previous development teams, and even since the first version of the latest plan was unveiled in 1999, much has changed.

Almost 400,000 square feet of development has been eliminated, maximum building heights have been cut from 300 to 244 feet, blocks have been shortened, and a public green has been added along Old Northern Avenue.

In addition, there are now homes or secondary locations for some major Boston cultural institutions: the Institute of Contemporary Art, the New England Aquarium, the Island Alliance, and the Children's Museum.

''The business plan that works for the developer and the activation plan that works for the community seem to work together, and that's really good news,'' said E. Bruce Berman Jr., communications director for Save the Harbor.

Warwick said most of what the letters called for has been agreed to in principle. For example, an existing Harborwalk, closed near the federal courthouse after Sept. 11 for security reasons, will be reopened and upgraded. The Boston Harbor Association's call for a community-based management group to oversee the public spaces was something the developer proposed and still favors, Warwick said.

''We think we have a partnership with the institutions that attract people,'' he said. ''We need people down there or the retail doesn't work.''

State environmental officials also were urged to:

Tighten the proposed construction schedule with respect to public areas.

Require that a 12-foot-wide interim harbor walk be built in the next six months, even if development is delayed.

Encourage ''generous subsidies'' by the developer to the nonprofit cultural groups that will occupy space alongside expensive condos and office space.

Most of the comments were favorable toward the overall plan.

''After years of spirited discussion and regulatory review, the Fan Pier remains an unpaved parking lot on the edge of Boston's renewed harbor,'' wrote Save the Harbor.

Looking to the future, Burns wrote that the plan for Fan Pier ''is today a strong commitment of full public access to an active, accessible, and culturally vibrant waterfront in South Boston.''

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 4/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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