Frank McCourt is the largest private property owner in the South Boston waterfront. The 25-acre McCourt parcel abuts the 21-acre Fan Pier parcel, site of the Hyatt Company's controversial 3.3 million square foot development proposal being shepherded through approvals by Spaulding & Slye and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Today's Boston Globe reported McCourt's comments made yesterday at a Muncipal Harbor Plan meeting. Boston Herald also published an excellent report of the presentation. (click here to read the Herald story).

McCourt's comments targetted Fan Pier planners and mall developer Stephen Karp's plans for towering development on Pier 4. (to view perspectives of Fan Pier plan model, click here).

Developer McCourt hits waterfront projects

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 12/02/99

Developer Frank McCourt yesterday threatened to scale back his contribution to a massive new MBTA station on the South Boston Waterfront - and construct buildings that are as tall as possible - if neighboring waterfront projects are approved as is.

''If we're feeling blocked out, we're going to go up [in the height of the buildings] to get over that,'' McCourt, president of McCourt Co., told members of the advisory committee for the Municipal Harbor Plan, a blueprint for waterfront development.

McCourt owns the 25-acre, L-shaped parcel along Northern Avenue and down to Summer Street in the heart of the emerging waterfront district.

His comments yesterday were in reference to the Chicago-based Pritzker family's $1 billion complex for Fan Pier that sits to the north of his property, and a proposal by Steve Karp of New England Development for a hotel and retail complex on Anthony's Pier 4. The tallest buildings in both the Pritzker and Karp projects are roughly 300 feet.

''What I feel from those projects is a wall. I don't feel Back Bay; I feel Kendall Square,'' McCourt said, referring to the suburban office park feel of the area in Cambridge at the foot of the Longfellow Bridge. He lamented that the city was allowing the creation of ''isolated enclaves, not a connected whole'' on the South Boston Waterfront.

McCourt also said the Pritzkers and Karp are not being asked to provide enough open space so people will be drawn to the area. On a pair of easels yesterday, he showed the amount of open space he envisions for the area, compared to slivers of green space bordering the 3.3 million-square-foot Fan Pier complex.

In one moment of tension in the meeting, Linda Haar, planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which has generally had a favorable reaction to the Pritzker's Fan Pier project, said McCourt's open-space comparison was ''not accurate.''

But McCourt said the Pritzkers and Karp were not being forced to include more public space on their property to create a clear walkway to the water's edge - and open space that lines up with the public realm he envisions for his property.

McCourt is collaborating with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for a $50 million station at Northern Avenue and West Service Road, currently under construction. Howard Elkus, McCourt's architect who also designed Copley Place, said the T station - the length of a football field and the first stop on the waterfront for the proposed Transitway coming from South Station - would be a grand civic space and gateway to the area.

McCourt said if the other developers are not forced to reduce the density of their projects and provide more public space, he will withdraw his ambitious plans for the T station.

''It's up to you,'' he told members of the Municipal Harbor Plan committee. ''We can go either way ... the Back Bay way or the Kendall Square way.''

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said, ''We are disappointed that after a two-year community process Mr. McCourt ignores the recommendations in the South Boston public realm plan. We found it interesting that he would tell the BRA how high his buildings will be, when in fact the city's plan dictates the zoning for the waterfront.''

McCourt acknowledged that he did not have specific building plans for his massive parcel, but he said he wanted to put public amenities - like parks and the T station - in place before proposing anything.

But development industry observers say McCourt, scion of a Boston family that has been in the construction business since 1893, has been forced into a defensive posture because other projects - the new federal courthouse, Fan Pier, Anthony's Pier 4 - are either built or underway.

Still, McCourt has an important advantage: the bulk of his property is not subject to Chapter 91, the state law restricting waterfront construction. The other developers, including the Pritzkers and Karp, must get exemptions from Chapter 91, broadly established in the Municipal Harbor Plan.

The South Boston Waterfront has been the focus of renewed attention in recent weeks, as projects are formally filed with city and state regulators and as the Municipal Harbor Plan is assembled. The plan is a more detailed blueprint than the city's master plan for the area, published almost two years ago.

Environmental activists and members of Boston's architectural community have said they worry the proposed development will create a sterile environment of hotels and office buildings instead of an area city residents and visitors can use and enjoy.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 12/02/99.

©Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company

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