Edifice complex

By ADAM REILLY  |  August 2, 2007

Not content with calling his critics inauthentic, Menino goes further. The skeptics, he says, were engaged in typical, knee-jerk Boston negativism. (“This is a tough city when you have bold ideas. They want you to do bold ideas, but once you say it — ‘Oh my God! We can’t do it! It’s bad for us!’ ”) As for those doubting members of the press, they’re just annoyed that they didn’t know about the Southie plan beforehand. (“Only five people in the whole room knew I was going to say it. That’s probably why the media’s really angry.”) And the architectural preservationists? Inconsistent at best, hypocritical at worst! (“I have an issue with the preservationists. We lost the span bridge out in Readville” — Menino’s Hyde Park neighborhood — “the last span bridge we had. Nobody said a whoompa about it!”)

Given all this, it seems reasonable to ask: is there anything Menino might hear that would make him rethink his plan?

At first, the mayor seems hurt by the implication. “Name a project in the city of Boston that my administration has pushed through without the public having a say,” he replies. “We get criticized by folks like yourself a lot. Every project we have, we have a public process, and we’ll have a public process with this.” Then comes the disclaimer: “But I’m elected to make decisions, also.” And then a glimpse of the kind of “public process” Menino might have in mind: “The folks who work in the Marine Industrial Park — they’ll be part of what the design looks like, how it affects their businesses.” In other words, all roads seem to lead to South Boston.

If Menino is as determined as he seems, the next question is who, exactly, might be able to stop him? According to Gleason, the former Boston corporation counsel, the Boston City Council has a major role to play here: the sale of City Hall and City Hall Plaza and the construction of a new building in South Boston, he says, would require at least a half-dozen affirmative votes by the council.

Miller says Gleason’s reading is overly expansive. But he also promises that things won’t proceed without the council’s approval. “This will require a vote of the city council, no doubt about that,” Miller says. “I understand some people are going around saying the BRA can do this all on its own. But we can’t.”

This will be welcome news to those who remember the mayor’s push, back in the late ’90s, to sell City Hall Plaza to a hotel developer. After transferring the land from the city to the BRA, Menino initially said that the council wouldn’t have a vote on the plaza’s prospective sale. (The mayor subsequently changed his tune on the council’s prospective involvement, but the hypothetical deal never panned out.)

Still, those who have reservations about Menino’s vision — for whatever reason — would do well to remain vigilant. Right now, a future in which the mayor’s plan is realized seems almost impossibly distant. A developer needs to buy City Hall and City Hall Plaza; the city needs to find a new site for the Bank of America Pavilion, Drydock Four’s current tenant; an architect needs to design the Southie structure; various city agencies need to give their assent to changes at both sites; hearings need to be held; the council needs to vote; demolition and construction have to take place. Logistically, Menino’s dream is far from being realized. But the requisite conceptual leaps are about to be taken — if they haven’t been already.

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