By John Lynds
Residents, members of the project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and union workers showed up by the dozens last Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn on Boardman Street to air their grievances with First Bristol over broken promises to the community as the development company plans an expansion of the hotel.
According to a filing with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), First Bristol is planning to use a portion of the property that was to be used as either retail or restaurant space to add an additional 84 hotel rooms to the 178 room hotel.
While First Bristol is still actively trying to attract a retail/restaurant use on the right side of the hotel, the company wants to use the left side of the property to add the additional hotel rooms.
First Bristol Vice President Jeff Karam said contrary to some rumors floating around town, First Bristol is still committed to a retail/restaurant space on site and had a lease signed with Applebee’s but the deal fell through at the last minute. The only site being proposed for expansion is a designated pad that was constructed closer to the Marty Pino Center side of the hotel.
“We were permitted for two retail pads,” said Karam. “One on the right side of the building and the other closer to the Marty Pino Center. I know there was some confusion in the community but we are still actively seeking someone for the retail pad on the right side of the building and we are using Eastern Retail, one of the premiere retail brokers in New England, so we are not eliminating all the retail pads.”
However, while First Bristol said they were not going to eliminate all retail opportunities from the site, their planned expansion did not sit well with residents, IAG members and union workers who accused the company of breaking several promises made to the community prior to construction.
First, former IAG member Mary Berninger pointed out that it took two years for First Bristol to cut a mitigation check to the City of Boston that was promised to the community. Leann Marshall of Marshall Properties, who partnered with First Bristol on the project, confirmed that the finical contribution the developers agreed upon prior to opening the hotel was not made.
“It came to our attention it was not paid and that was an oversight on our part,” said Marshall.
Residents were a little skeptical that the $75,000 check suddenly appeared a few days prior to the BPDA meeting. The money, $25,000 to the Marty Pino Center, $25,000 to Noyes Park and $25,000 to the East Boston Greenway, said Marshall, has been paid in full.
Second, Berninger said throughout the IAG process First Bristol agreed to no large signage on the property. Berninger said First Bristol broke that second promise to the community when they tried to lease land to Logan Communications who planned to place a very large electronic billboard on the Hilton property. The efforts failed following a backlash from the community and former IAG members who reminded First Bristol of its commitment to no large signage on the site.
However, Marshall said, “as of now the billboard is not going forward” but would not commit to “never” entertaining a billboard proposal on the site after being put on the spot by Berninger.
“Those are the kind of phrases this community takes to heart,” said Berninger. “‘As of now’ does not equate to ‘we will never entertain someone who wants to put a billboard on this property’.”
Marshall did say she would take note of the objection to any future plans for a billboard on the site and bting it back to her partners.
Others at the meeting, like union leaders from the painters, plasters, tapers, and electrical unions, said they went to bat for First Bristol, wrote letters of support for the project but were left out in the cold when construction began.
“You’re father met with us and told us this would be a union job,” one union member told Jeff Karam. “There were drywall finishers laid off at the time, electricians, painters but you used outside labor for the project.”
Karam shot back that the project was over 85 percent union. However, representatives from the trade unions present at the meeting scoffed at the number and promised to get the exact figures before the next community meeting.
As First Bristol begins the community process for the expansion, other community leaders and IAG members like Joseph Ruggiero said the company has suffered a real blow to its credibility in Eastie.
“My concern is not what you did this week, and we thank you for the contribution, but it’s what you haven’t done for the last three years,” said Ruggiero. “You can’t come in and buy support after three years of not doing the right thing. You not only built in our community but you are now part of our community. There is no community better than this community and we just need you to understand as we move forward with this process that this community should be your number one priority. You need to do a better job of being on top of the commitments you have made. The only bad thing about this community is when people from the outside come in and take advantage of us and we are not going to stand for it. You need to be more proactive in dealing with us and honoring your commitments.”