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Activists demand promise for pier: Massport resists hotel, lease link
by Scott Van Voorhis

An 18-story waterfront hotel project considered key to the success of the coming South Boston convention center faces a new and formidable obstacle - potential opposition from powerful environmental lobbyists.

The Conservation Law Foundation says it is prepared, if necessary, to block developer Joseph Fallon's proposed $200 million-plus hotel and apartment project as part of its battle to preserve the nearby Fish Pier for maritime uses.

The conservation activists have been waging a fierce campaign to force the Massachusetts Port Authority to ink long-term leases with an array of maritime businesses at the bustling Fier Pier.

CLF's move comes at a sensitive time for Fallon, who is nearing the end of a grueling, four-year effort to nail down bank financing and state regulatory approval.

With plans for a bevy of hotels on hold amid a stumbling economy, Fallon's 440-room hotel is considered a lifesaver for the $800 million taxpayer-financed convention center, slated to open next door in 2004.

``We do think we have legal leverage,'' said Stephanie Pollack, a senior staff attorney for the conservation group.

Until now, Fallon's hotel project and the battle for the future of Fish Pier on the other side of Northern Avenue have been proceeding on separate tracks.

However, the conservation group says its wants the Fish Pier lease deals to be included in the conditions Fallon's proposed hotel project will have to meet to win regulatory approval from state environmental officials.

The group is working with Fish Pier tenants - fish-processing and maritime businesses who fear Massport is slowly edging them out to make way for more lucrative commercial development.

The conservation group contends Massport must sign long-term lease deals with businesses on the state authority's Fish Pier. If not, it may tie up Fallon's hotel project, now close to winning final approval from state environmental officials, in what could a lengthy regulatory showdown.

Such a confrontation would be a blow not only to the Southie convention center, but to cash-strapped Massport as well as it juggles running Logan International Airport with managing the Hub's port facilities.

Moreover, waterfront activists say they want more than a lease commitment from Massport.

Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, said she would like to see payments made by Fallon's hotel project funneled directly into helping defray Massport's costs of running the Fish Pier.

But Lowell Richards, Massport's director of real estate development, rejects efforts to tie Fallon's project to the nearby Fish Pier.

Other than fact they sit across the street from each other, there is little else that connects the two.

Richards also argues that Massport is moving swiftly to begin long-term lease negotiations with Fish Pier tenants.

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