Frustration Grows About Delays on Waterfront Development

It’s been 230 days since Mayor Thomas Menino delivered his speech to the Boston Chamber of Commerce pledging to jumpstart waterfront development on East Boston’s shore. Yet many are left wondering why little or nothing has happened.

Across the Boston Harbor in South Boston, it seems there is a weekly groundbreaking on some multimillion-dollar development project being supported by the Mayor and the city. Just last Thursday Gerding Edlen broke ground on the $150 million Boston Wharf Tower – a 21 story 184 unit residential project.  This comes a few weeks after John Drew announced that construction commenced on the $120 million 236 unit residential project which will include retail and startup workspace and at a time when there is no news of if or when Eastie’s turn will come.

“I will be pulling together the developers, the unions, and community stakeholders over the next 90 days to put this plan in action,” Menino said at the Greater Boston Chamber on December 6. “We all must have a sense of urgency because the people of East Boston deserve it.”

This week, nearly eight months after Menino’s call to arms, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) can point to no concrete steps of what they or the Menino administration have taken to create the “Waterfront Development District” as promised back in December. When asked if anything was filed with the BRA or other city agencies as example of getting this development district moving forward, the BRA could only say they were “making great progress on the East Boston Waterfront”.  “Projects are moving forward, conversations are happening, and we’re closely examining the best route to creating a successful Waterfront Development District,” said the BRA’s Melina Schuler – despite Menino’s emphasis on getting this moving by March of this year.

Also there is little information available about the BRA’s meetings with developers, unions and “stakeholders” that have taken place and what results if any have been achieved.  The BRA would only say that, “there have been many meetings with developers and stakeholders to ensure that projects are moving forward on the East Boston Waterfront.”

Schuler pointed to Hodge Boiler Works’ filing of a Notice of Project Change in January 2012 as well as Fort Point Associates’ filing a Notice of Project Change in May 2012 for their New Street project as signs that there has been progress on Eastie’s waterfront.

Although no start date for construction has been announced for either of these projects, both were already planning to downsize their developments to make better economic sense well before the Mayor’s December 6th address.

“We expect these projects to go to the BRA Board in the coming months and anticipate other projects will reach significant milestones in the next few months,” said Schuler.

While little progress has been made here on waterfront development, the BRA did point to several projects in the community that have broken ground including the building of a City funded library, the new East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Maverick Square funded by federal stimulus dollars and the construction of a new Excel Academy Charter School paid for through grants and state funding as reasons to celebrate.

Senator Anthony Petruccelli said that he is “extremely frustrated this summer with the lack of development on our waterfront”.

“In particularly I’m growing increasingly concered with the lack of collaboration between the developers and the building trades,” he said. “However, I remain hopeful that we will see positive developments in the near future.”

In his speech, Menino said another sign of the City’s commitment to Eastie’s waterfront the city would finance a new marine terminal in East Boston.

“It will enhance harbor connections between East Boston and other neighborhoods,” said Menino. “It will also create a substantial water transit node near the T’s new Maverick square head house, where use is on the rise. There is significant infrastructure in place already. The city can finance the terminal and recoup our investment as the developers finish their projects.”

But when asked what information there is on this “new marine terminal” located near the new T Stop in Maverick the BRA said they only have some cost estimates and are working with Massport who owns the Marine Terminal on creating a world class water transportation facility.

The only real example the BRA or City could point to as a sign something has happened over this past 230 was the inclusison in the last Capital Budget approved by the City to pay for the infrastructure improvements promised as part of this new Waterfront Development District. Schuler said that there is “$155,000 in the capital budget in FY13 allotted for water transportation infrastructure investment, including a study to determine demand, infrastructure requirements and programming of water transportation.”

Eastie activist Mary Berninger pointed to the recent announcement of the city’s plans to spend $13 million to rehab dowtown crossing as another example of the growing frustration over waterfront development here.  “I would like to believe that the city is doing all it can for development in every ward,” said Berninger. “I do not begrudge any particular neighborhood its improvements, but East Boston’s promised waterfront development needs to begin, in earnest, with the full weight of the administration in concert with the efforts of individuals and groups who are tired of the delays.”

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