Edifice complex

Tom Menino has already remade Boston’s skyline. Now he wants to pack up City Hall and move it to Southie. Can anyone stop him?
By ADAM REILLY  |  August 2, 2007


All fall down: Boston City Hall may not be easy on the eyes, but it’s hardly the ugliest building in town. Consider the leading candidates for that title. By Adam Reilly
You’re Boston Mayor Tom Menino, preparing to address the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on a chilly morning in December 2006. You’re a 13-year incumbent who’s been dubbed “Mayor for Life,” and you’re used to getting your way. But you also know that, no matter what you do, people still grumble about your lack of “vision” — whatever that’s supposed to mean.

They want vision? You’ll give them vision. In a few minutes — while Boston’s corporate and political elite scrape the last bits of eggs and potatoes off their plates — you’re going to suggest selling Boston City Hall and its adjoining plaza, and building a state-of-the-art replacement on city-owned land on the South Boston waterfront. It is, you’ll explain, an inspired plan: it’ll pay for itself! Make city government leaner (goodbye, excess bureaucracy) and greener (hello, energy efficiency)! Spur development on the waterfront and downtown!

You speak — but instead of an ovation, you get awkward silence. Then, in the days and weeks that follow, the critics pile on. A majority of the usually timid Boston City Council pans your idea. The editorial page of the Boston Globe urges you to hire a city planner who’ll make you drop your harebrained scheme. The Boston Landmarks Commission — whose members you appoint! — takes a first step toward classifying the current City Hall as a landmark, a result that would prevent its destruction and almost certainly scare developers away. And at a City Council hearing on your proposal, the president of the Boston Society of Architects suggests that your plan would be bad for development — and bad for democracy.

How do you respond? Do you back off? Search for a compromise? Or press ahead with your plans to remake Boston?

Remember, you’re not about to become Boston’s longest-serving mayor because you’ve heeded the skeptics, who’ve needled you ever since Ray Flynn left to became ambassador to the Vatican in 1993 and you lucked into the acting mayor’s slot. No, you’ve gotten where you are — and put your imprimatur on the city — by banishing doubt, by following your gut, by dismissing dissenters as mere nabobs of negativism.

This, you remind yourself, is what the public wants you to do; that’s why you’ve trounced every opponent you’ve ever had. The answer is obvious: ignore the naysayers and put on your hardhat.

Tommy’s town
Mayor Menino has already done plenty to reshape Boston’s topography. There is, for starters, the visually stunning, parking-impoverished Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which was championed by Menino and hosted the media party prior to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. (See Correction, below) There’s also the new Institute of Contemporary Art, which opened to great fanfare this past year and would be a neighbor to Menino’s new City Hall if the latter is built.  

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  Topics: News Features , Michael Flaherty, Michael Flaherty, Boston Landmarks Commission,  More more >
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