When Boston Mayor Thomas Menino took his oath of office for an unprecedented fifth term this past January, he made a promise that raised many eyebrows.
Menino pledged to look upon old problems with new eyes and remain flexible in dealing with innovation and projects without precedent.
The mayor, always a focused individual not known for his magnanimity when displeased, promised to keep an open mind as Boston moves to wrestle with the biggest challenges it faces in a generation.
The Phoenix applauded Menino’s new spirit — and took a bit of gentle ribbing from cynics who thought the mayor’s words were all sizzle and no steak.
No one can accuse Menino of being open-minded in his consideration of developer Don Chiofaro’s plans to build two towers on the Boston Harbor front by the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The towers would rise on a lot now occupied by a parking garage, which Chiofaro purchased almost three years ago for a reported $155 million.
The truth is, not only will Menino not consider the project, but after months of public wrangling via the press, he still declines to meet with Chiofaro.
To be very clear, Chiofaro has been lobbying the Phoenix hard for months, trying to sell this paper on the merits of his proposal.
And although we first greeted the idea with skepticism, over time we’ve seen some of the potential objections, such as Port Authority consent needed for airport fly ways, melt away.
This is not to say that Chiofaro’s proposal as it now stands should be approved. It’s not perfect. But it has merit. It should be considered.
We discussed the plans with several architects with no ties to either the mayor or the developer and all said that they thought the central idea of towers not exceeding 400 feet was workable. Chiofaro’s plans, they said, were rough, but certainly ready for refinement.
The concern, on the mayor’s part, seems to be that towers will ruin the Kennedy Greenway.
Many architects disagree. They say that what the Greenway — now full of grass and little else — needs is foot traffic, people, congestion. Urban mass is the key to the Greenway succeeding.
A potentially signature urban project is being held hostage by what is an essentially a suburban idea of development.
And then there is the issue of personality conflict, the clash of egos, Menino versus Chiofaro.
Chiofaro has so far done things by the book, beginning work with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But he is, of course, no dummy. He should know that the mayor likes to deal with these things personally, and before they are made public. Whether that’s good public policy or good management practice seems to be irrelevant.
In many back rooms and board rooms around the city, there is a sense that maybe these two guys deserve each other.
That, however, should not be the point.
Chiofaro’s plans have the potential for huge economic impact.
It is important to note that this is a $1 billion-plus development, and Chiofaro is asking for neither tax breaks nor subsidies.