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"For years the Waterboat Marina's operators have been allowed to pay the BRA a pittance in rent - most recently less than $29,000 a year."

Boston Herald Columnist Cosmo Macero Jr., regarding a BRA-leased marina
with revenues estimated between $500,000 and $1 million each year

Copyright 2003 The Boston Herald
Boston Herald, October 27, 2003

An agency asks little, offers less
by Cosmo Macero Jr., Boston Herald Columnist

Six months ago, as Boston faced a $70 million budget shortfall and city workers looked at unemployment, Paul McCann flatly refused to dip into the Boston Redevelopment Authority's considerable largess.

McCann, executive assistant to BRA Director Mark Maloney, oversees the agency's impressive collection of assets.

He has also won the unflinching trust of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, even though an outside legal review in 1999 found that McCann had approved one of the most scandalous decisions in BRA history: to sell a subsidized Charlestown condominium to one of the agency's own employees.

The fallout cost then-BRA Director Thomas N. O'Brien his job - in part because McCann denied what the hired lawyers later proved.

Menino sided with McCann, and that was that.

You might think such loyalty would buy the mayor every last bit of effort from McCann to dig deep in a time of fiscal crisis.

But back in April - with his agency sitting on $400 million worth of property and more than $25 million in cash reserves - McCann said the BRA simply couldn't afford to backstop the bleeding budget.

``Even with our best-faith efforts, it's not bankable now for the next fiscal year,'' McCann said at the time.

But you have to wonder if the question of a true good-faith effort nags at McCann - just a little bit - as he steams into Long Wharf each workday on the water shuttle from Hull.

The ride takes McCann right past the Boston Waterboat Marina - home to some of the grandest sailing schooners and most luxurious yachts anywhere on the waterfront.

Paul McCann is in charge of this BRA-owned asset - hard along the backside of the Marriott Long Wharf in a choice location just steps from Quincy Market.

And Paul McCann is quietly letting the city get the shaft.

For years the Waterboat Marina's operators have been allowed to pay the BRA a pittance in rent - most recently less than $29,000 a year.

The agency's own asset-management staff estimates that marina operations haul in between $500,000 and $1 million a year. And the staff has been practically begging McCann to put a contract out to bid.

Moreover, according to City Hall sources, McCann has allowed the operator, Lawrence Cannon, to ignore a number of cease-and-desist orders for unauthorized construction and expansions of the facility.

``We suspect he has violated his Chapter 91 permit authority,'' says Boston Finance Commission Executive Director Jeff Conley, referring to the state law regulating waterfront development.

Conley, whose commission is a state-appointed watchdog of City Hall finances, has joined several BRA insiders in questioning McCann's oversight of the marina - in particular the tiny sliver of revenue that the agency is getting.

``They are way out of line with what the market should be. There are a lot of really large boats there. Boats from other countries,'' Conley says. ``It really shouldn't be given away. It ought to be completely and publicly bid. That's as clear as the nose on your face.''

The BRA said McCann was ``away and unreachable'' when I called on Friday. Previously, it had taken several tries to get confirmation of the Waterboat Marina lease terms.

Still, BRA spokeswoman Meredith Baumann insisted the terms are favorable to the city, while acknowledging a ``market study'' is under way to ``assess ways we could increase revenues.''

Well, for starters, how about bringing the rent they're charging into the 21st century?

``Our appraisal found (the rent) to be comparable with what other marinas are charging per linear foot,'' Baumann said.

She also says the marina contract is under different rules than others because the BRA acquired the asset by eminent domain.

But nobody is buying that. Least of all the BRA's own internal experts.

The Waterboat Marina, with about three dozen boat slips, is home to 50-foot yachts such as the ``Cheers IV'' and the ``No Matter What.''

It also boasts the mooring for the ``Edna'' - a stunning 87-foot schooner specializing in corporate and private cruises.

Tens of millions of dollars worth of luxury watercraft are docked there.

And the BRA is happy with $29,000 a year.

``Why don't (they) just put an RFP out and see what the market will bear?'' asks one City Hall source. ``Who the hell are these people?''

As it turns out, they're the same people who allowed operators of a BRA-owned parking lot on Tremont Street to skate by on just $88,000 in annual rent - even as the agency's asset managers said the lot was probably raking in $1 million a year.

The same lawyer who cut the deal for the marina also represents the parking lot.

``It makes you think there is something else going on,'' Conley says.

The cry went out again inside the BRA for a public bidding process. But instead, McCann re-upped with the same parking lot operators for another two years - this time for $264,000 annually.

I suppose you'd have to call that progress, all things considered.

But if this is the BRA's idea of a ``best-faith effort,'' Tom Menino still has some very long days ahead.

Send e-mail to: cosmo@bostonherald.com.

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