Edifice complex

By ADAM REILLY  |  August 2, 2007

What, then, is Flaherty’s beef? He predicts that building a new City Hall on Drydock Four would drive away business currently operating in the nearby Marine Industrial Park. (Flaherty claims several business owners have already told him they’ll leave if a new City Hall is built nearby, but he won’t identify them.) He also contends that city government belongs in a centrally located spot — the current City Hall is within walking distance of the State House and four subway lines — instead of a peninsula which, at present, is accessible only by car and the glorified bus route known as the Silver Line. Finally, he complains that Menino announced his plan prematurely, without first doing the research necessary to back it up.

What’s needed, Flaherty argues, is a thorough study that would examine the advantages and disadvantages of putting a new City Hall in South Boston — something akin to the report prepared in 1997 to make the case for the construction of the then-hypothetical Boston Convention Center. “More homework, more methodology, more study should have gone into it,” says Flaherty of the mayor’s pitch. “I have not heard anybody to date, either from the administration or the BRA, tell me why moving City Hall makes sense for Boston.”

True, Flaherty may be working on his mayoral stump speech. But less political creatures are making similar arguments. At the May 21 hearing, for example, Boston Society of Architects president Hubert Murray warned that putting a new City Hall on Southie’s waterfront might actually retard development in the area. Murray also scoffed at Menino’s suggestion that, with more residents conducting municipal business over the Internet, a central location for city government is less important than it used to be. “City government is an animal that cannot be replaced by the Internet,” Murray said at the hearing. “Face to face meetings are absolutely essential to that function.” Simply on the basis of geography, Murray concluded, the mayor’s plan should be a “nonstarter.”

Hizzoner ho!
Murray’s agreement with Flaherty only goes so far, however. Murray ultimately belongs to the preservationist camp — he’d like to see City Hall renovated, not sold to the highest bidder. But if Menino suddenly started talking about building on the centrally located Rose Kennedy Greenway, Flaherty might become a mayoral ally and a Murray opponent. To put it differently: opposition to the mayor’s plan is neither as broad nor as determined as it currently seems.

As for the mayor himself, there’s been speculation that all the furor over his plan has given him pause. But as Menino discusses the South Boston proposal with the Phoenix — in Parkman House, the city-owned manse on Beacon Hill, rather than his City Hall office — there’s no indication of doubt. I mention the avalanche of criticism; the mayor shrugs it off. “I get a different reaction from people — you know, from real people,” says Menino. “They like the idea. They see it’s a creative idea, something new for the city.”

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