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July 7, 2005

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe

Boston Globe Editorial

Fan Pier Pressure

MAYOR MENINO is right that it's time for the Pritzker family to sell its land on the Fan Pier to a developer who will begin construction of the huge housing and commercial complex long planned for the waterfront site. The Pritzkers need to accept that they have been holding out for too high a price on the land.

The family has been involved with the Fan Pier since 1981. The Pritzkers thought they had a deal with restaurateur Anthony Athanas to develop the site, but he demanded more money, and, by the time the Pritzkers won a lawsuit against him in 1989, the real estate market had collapsed. When they tried again in the 1997, their original plan was irredeemably inadequate. By the time they had devised a plan that satisfied state and city officials, in 2001, the real estate market had contracted once again. Hoteliers by trade, the Chicago-based Pritzkers have had no luck with development in Boston.

Resigned to their star-crossed fate, the Pritzkers decided to sell the land in 2003, but their asking price, reportedly $110 million to $120 million, was too high for two developers, who backed off after examining the commitments the Pritzkers had made to earn approval of their 2001 plan. The obvious answer is to drop the price, but the land remains unsold. No wonder the mayor is frustrated. He is threatening to rescind some of the development permits or refrain from renewing the permit for their parking business.

Publicly, the Pritzkers are maintaining silence about the mayor's pressure, but rumblings from their direction suggest that they consider the land over-encumbered with public amenities and infrastructure requirements. It's true that the state and city have demanded much to build in this prime location, but the developers accepted these conditions in 2001. They should not renege on the deal or engage in protracted litigation in response to mayoral pressure.

Government agencies have spent billions of dollars in transportation improvements to make the site attractive for development, notably the Ted Williams Tunnel and the underground Silver Line. In the early 1990s, the federal government agreed to build a courthouse on part of the site. The federal government paid $34 million for the land, which Athanas gave the Pritzker development team as damages. Government has been exceptionally kind to the Pritzkers.

City Council President Michael F. Flaherty has suggested that the city take the land by eminent domain, but the city doesn't have the money, and a purchase would set a bad precedent for future stalled projects. The Fan Pier needs to be developed privately, like other housing and commercial ventures, by a company that can get the job done.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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