"He who pays the piper calls the tune."
-- George Bernard Shaw

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 6/12/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

Ned's Park
By Steve Bailey, Globe Staff, 6/12/2002

You have to give Ned Johnson a lot of credit.

While the Pritzkers and the Karps and the McCourts, rich guys all, are still dreaming and scheming about the future of the South Boston Waterfront, the Fidelity boss is almost done. Twenty years ago, before anyone was even talking about the waterfront, Johnson bought and renovated the World Trade Center. Then he built a 426-room hotel right across the street. Then he added a 16-story office building next door. And finally a second office building, which is just opening. For Ned Johnson, the future is now.

People like Johnson do not get where they are by being easily satisfied. And the man who built Fidelity Investments into the biggest mutual fund company in the world is not yet altogether happy with his waterfront creation. There is a small park beside his Fidelity East building that has been bothering him - and he intends to make it right. The unnoticed story of Ned's Park raises some tough questions for the rest of us as we reshape the waterfront, the Central Artery, and the rest of the city.

The little park Johnson wants to rebuild was completed just two years ago, and was designed by Craig Halverson, the landscape architect best known for Post Office Square, one of the jewels of the city. The park that Halverson designed is in full bloom now, and the green lawns and granite walls have become popular at lunchtime with the people who inhabit the Fidelity building next door. There are nautical sculptures and steps that open onto the street on both ends of the park to invite the public in.

And there is the rub, says Halverson. The new design, conceived by Elizabeth Banks, an English landscape architect Johnson has used before, calls for regrading the park and installing a wall of plantings to create a kind of giant, green womb for the office building, rather than for the public, Halverson says. Maybe it is an architect's wounded pride, but Halverson thinks it is a mistake: ''It is almost coming off like an English castle garden, what he wants to do. The question is: Does that fit in an urban setting?''

Halverson believes the park works well and could become ''a common ground'' once the buildings planned next door are completed. Marjunette Nusbaum and Meredith Faro, two attorneys who are regulars in the park, agree. ''It's a nice little oasis,'' Faro says. ''It's beautiful. I think it does work,'' Nusbaum says.

John Drew, president of the Drew Co., Fidelity's partner in the seaport development, says the intent is to make the park greener, with more trees and more lawn for people to sit on. Johnson, after all, is a man who cares about gardens; he once spent more than $300,000 to build an exquisite Japanese garden outside his office on Devonshire Street. ''We have a park we want to improve,'' says Drew. ''We have lived with it a couple of years, and want to improve it. That is a wonderful thing, not a bad thing.''

It is not a bad thing. But the story of Ned's Park raises bigger issues for Boston. For instance: As we insist that the private sector pay more and more of the cost for public amenities like parks in exchange for development rights, will not the private sector demand more and more control? Drew put it well: ''We wouldn't have this project if Ned Johnson had not been a visionary.''

We don't build Boston Commons anymore. Fidelity bought and paid for the park next to its office building; Manufacturer's Life is paying the freight on a park just across the street. We are on course to turn over the maintenance of the Central Artery to the owners of the office towers and hotels that abut it. It is not surprising in the least that those who pay the bills will want a big say in how their money is spent.

''It is a big issue,'' says Halverson, ''the whole public-private issue and how that works. How much does it belong to the neighborhood and how much to the developer? ... It becomes a matter of subjective judgment. Whose park is it anyway?''

On the seaport, we know the answer: It is Ned's Park.

Steve Bailey can be reached at 617-929-2902 or at bailey@globe.com.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 6/12/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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