Will it be cost effective?
To the editor,
As I read about the return of ferry service in Boston Harbor, I wondered whether or not it would be cost-effective for Boston today. Is there is a pressing need for such water shuttle service at this time?
I am old enough to remember riding a ferry back and forth to East Boston. Mostly, the boats ferried automobiles plus a few riders in a side waiting room. Motorists were charge five cents to carry cars across the harbor and carless-riders like myself and my family paid two cents a piece, I kid you not. The North End/ East Boston ferries stopped running around 1953. Up until that date, there was only the Sumner Tunnel built during the Great Depression. However, fewer and fewer cars took the ferries. By the time, 1954 when the Tobin Bridge was constructed, ferries fell the way of the dinosaur. It had its run and just ran out of time.
Does Boston really need ferries carting folks all over the Boston waterfront? Kudos to both City Councilors Sal LaMattina and Bill Linehan for bringing up a discussion on this water transit issue. However, I don’t see folks flocking to any ferry in any of Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods.
There is currently a ferry from the Town of Winthrop to piers at the Boston Waterfront. There is no gridlock trying to board this boat and the price a bit too pricey for many. If you can’t attract enough riders for the current Massport ferry service from Logan Airport to Long Wharf carrying folks using the airport, how can you imagine folks wanting to ride between South Boston or East Boston or East Boston to the North End.
No one living in East Boston will be lining up for a ferry to the North End to use the Mirabella Pool on Commercial Street and no one from the North End would think of using a ferry to get to Constitution Beach, aka Shea’s Beach.
The facts seem clear, ferry service is a nice idea but a nice idea for 1953. People drive today. Riding the ferry to Boston for dinner at night won’t be an option for many. Cars killed the old ferries crossing harbor and cars will win out again if restored today.
Sometimes you just can’t go back no matter how nice the idea seems.
Why my first time participating in a community review process might be my last
On Wednesday night I attended an Eagle Hill Civic Association Meeting. While my husband and I have lived in the neighborhood for over two years, this was our first time attending a civic association meeting. We were drawn to the meeting by the fifth agenda item (actually moved to be the last), a review of a proposal for the Meridian Street Library Building from Al Caldarelli of Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Frank Ramirez of East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC). But, before I talk about this new proposal, a bit of background.
Last year, the Department of Neighborhood Development issued a request for proposals for the defunct Library at 280-282 Meridian Street, which can be accessed via this link. There are lots of details in this document, but, particularly the stated desired uses for the space are as follows:
- Technology training for all ages,
- Incubator space for high technology or innovation start-ups,
- Community theater and performance space,
- Community gathering space that may include restaurants or cafes,
- Art exhibits that reflect the rich maritime history of East Boston, and
- Other appropriate programming that is consistent with these themes.
Along with a group of other East Boston residents led by Melissa and John Tyler of 154 Maverick, we developed a proposal for a creativity complex – a multi-use space that would include making spaces and classes, performance arts and music, movement, as well as co-working space and a café. Our proposal did not win. The proposal that did win was put forth by a joint partnership of Al Caldarelli and Frank Ramirez. There was a lack of clarity about their possible tenants – the Urban College of Boston and Veronica Robles were mentioned though the amount of space each would receive was not clear. East Boston Social Services, a daycare, was touted as an anchor tenant, who would rent 4,500 square feet (nearly a whole floor). The daycare center is what tipped the scale, despite the fact that daycare was not one of the identified intended uses of the space.
My group and I were disappointed, but, the process seemed fair and the group with the most community support won. There seemed to be a groundswell of support for daycare on Eagle Hill.
The building has sat vacant since the winning bid was announced last August. It seems at present that its only use is for storage of heavy machinery for the neighboring Seville Theater Condominiums construction project in the rear lot. Hence, I was eager to hear what was actually going to happen with this beautiful historic building, and what the timeline for bringing it back into public use would be.
At Wednesday’s meeting we learned that the day care center was not, in fact, going to be a tenant. The Urban College of Boston was also missing. Veronica Robles was the only original tenant who was in attendance (and whose work I am a huge fan of). There was also some talk of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s “let’s get moving” program becoming a tenant, though this is problematic as (1) the amount of space is unclear and (2) their program is limited to patients of the clinic referred by their doctors into the program, while the originally proposed day care would be available for use by all families.
This clearly felt like a bait and switch tactic. Moreover, it felt like the community review process the DND repeatedly proclaimed was a huge factor in their choice of the winning bid, was a farce.
Wednesday’s meeting quickly grew dramatic. I raised the question about process – if the community supported a proposal based on the uses that were presented by the bidders, how could those uses drastically change without a new process? A number of my neighbors from Eagle Hill and beyond supported this inquiry. All the while, Al Caldarelli, sporting an arrogant smile, kept insisting that the deed was about to transfer to CDC, indicating that the community’s concerns were of no concern to him. He continued in this vein even when City Councilor Sal LaMattina announced that the deed would not pass to CDC without a community meeting to review building tenants. Caldarelli’s superciliousness is disgusting and disappointing.
Even more disgusting and disappointing was the response of EBECC’s Frank Ramirez, who proceeded to engage in a tirade of shouting and finger pointing and accusing the community of anti-Latino sentiments (if only I had recorded his outburst!). I am cringing and feel my blood pressure rising thinking back to that moment. A number of our community members left the room due to his disgraceful remarks. I am not sure how he so grossly misjudged the intentions of the audience. Most of the East Boston residents I know cherish the diversity of our neighborhood and want our Latino neighbors – in fact all our neighbors – to live healthy, productive lives. This is not only altruistic, but also self-motivated, as there is an understanding that when we all rise, we all win.
I can personally relate to the struggles immigrants face, as I vividly recall my family’s move as Jewish refugees from Russia – six of us living in a one bedroom apartment, my engineer mother cleaning houses to make ends meet, my father couch surfing during the week in Boston and coming back to New York (where we were living) every weekend because the only good engineering job he could find was in Boston, where we could not yet afford to move. My family and I learned English, signed up for housing assistance, and received a number of crucial services from NYANA, an organization similar to EBECC. I believe that their work is important. I am not convinced it should happen in a building that has “Free to All” carved into the pediments over the doors, if, in truth, they plan to serve only one group of people.
But, my greatest disappointment is with the DND. It is clear that there is community outcry for the full project, not just one tenant, to be opened again to hear new proposals. Yet, not once during Caldarelli’s assurance that he was getting the deed did Raey Pannesi, the DND’s senior project manager for this project, who was sitting two chairs away from me, stand up and say that the process would be paused and that the deed would not pass without further review. In fact, Pannesi seemed irritated that there was such a strong adverse reaction, and also shared that elected officials (in addition to LaMattina, State Representative Adrian Madaro was in attendance) were not informed of this change in plans because she had surgery on her foot. On such an important project and property, the DND should have had someone overseeing Pannesi’s work load while she was on medical leave. I have been told that the CDC is very familiar with getting what it wants from the City and has broken promises to the community in the past. With this knowledge, the DND should have been aware of these major changes and immediately re-started the proposal project. If the DND truly cares about community input, how can it allow a use of the space to completely change once a winning contract is awarded? What happens next time that a contract is awarded and the owner decides to change the use of the space?
I participated in this process in good faith. I consider myself to be an involved member of my community. I care about what happens in my neighborhood, and invest my time and resources in making sure it continues to be the kind of place I want to live. However, this first experience in a DND run community review process has left a terrible taste in my mouth, and, worse a feeling that I wasted my time and my breath.
The deck seems stacked towards Cardarelli. And that is just too bad. I used to think that I saw few people like myself, working professionals with families, at these types of meetings because they were busy. Now I know that they are just disappointed in this process.
And so, unless the DND reopens the bidding on the Meridian Street Library to allow the community to review current and new proposals and help select the best use and best owner for the building, my first experience in a community review process will likely be my last. I want to be an involved citizen, but not when I am involved in a farce.