The ArchRecord Interview: Boston Planners John Palmieri and Kairos Shen
TSB: What’s the status of the proposal to move City Hall?
KS: There are several components to it. The first one is an evaluation of the entire portfolio of municipal buildings. There are two construction projects that are critically linked: the waterfront and the Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square [in the Roxbury neighborhood], which is on the front burner [to be completed as early as 2011]. Evaluating what should be done with [City Hall] is interlinked with those.
JP: As we consider City Hall, it is a very difficult structure to adaptively reuse. It’s old, it’s tired, and some would argue it’s outlived its usefulness. And it sits in the middle of this 8-plus-acre site. There are those who would argue that there is some value in the site and we need to be considering how best to reprogram it, into several development parcels, for instance. That might help to underwrite costs associated with building a new city hall.
TSB: How far along is the city’s “Crossroads” initiative to integrate the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which is a somewhat unwieldy public/private venture coordinated with mostly state-level authorities, by redesigning the adjacent city streets and sidewalks?
KS: We’re in midst of putting the first set of design packages out to bid. We’re working to make sure that the standards we’ve set for these [dozen downtown streets] are acceptable to all of our city departments. We’re appealing to new design ideas and new material ideas. The first design contract will be out by the end of spring or early summer. There are four active design contracts out of 13. There is about $37 million of capital budget assigned for these projects for us to spend in the next five years.
TSB: Where do things stand with the Trans National tower and the preservation of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building?
JP: We continue to negotiate with the Trans National Group. We haven’t arrived at a disposition value for the parking garage [which is a city-owned structure that makes up part of the proposed site for the 1,000-foot tower].
KS: We’ve told the design team that they have to produce a design that has so much value as a new contemporary building that people will stop worrying about whether it is in fact negating a significant but not critical historic structure. We have not seen a version of the building at its current size that could accommodate the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building. This is one of the things we’re going to struggle with in the next 15, 20 years, is when these 1960s iconic Modern structures become obsolete, how do we deal with them? They’re not all of equal quality.
TSB: How can the BRA help the city deal with a possible recession?
JP: Our role ought to be to do thorough reviews but to do them with efficiency, so that projects that are permitted—and maybe partially financed—have a good chance of getting through the review process in a timely way. We’ve got to provide the applicants with good advise and regulatory assistance so they can refine their programs and get their projects started. We don’t provide financing, although we can help projects become more viable.KS: There are ways in zoning and permitting procedures we can encourage and incentivize projects by adding or giving additional development rights. We will do that where appropriate. And we’re starting to look more into economic development planning. It’s more important for us to do good planning while there is a breather in the actual investment in physical buildings, so that the next wave, when the economy is on its way back up, we know exactly where the growth areas are and we can direct interested capital to those areas.