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View Full Version : Boston Mayor Calls for Selling City Hall and Plaza

Dec 13, 2006, 6:54 AM
Bombshell sale would make Hub history
By Scott Van Voorhis
Boston Herald Business Reporter
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - Updated: 12:50 AM EST

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, with his bombshell that he plans to sell City Hall and the sorry plaza in front, has put into play what could be the biggest single development project in Boston history.

Menino unleashed his thunderbolt announcement before a crowd of downtown executives at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

By the time he got back to his fifth-floor office in the concrete bunker city government calls home, Menino said he had a stack of messages from business executives and real estate types.

Menino appears to have had a change of heart since downplaying the idea of selling City Hall when I suggested it in a column last month.

Developers are already talking up the idea of a massive mix of office, condo and hotel high-rises, with 5 million square feet or more.

“I have lots of feedback already, the mayor said.

Menino wasn’t offering up names. But Hub real estate insiders were already drawing up a list of likely contenders for what some are billing as the development opportunity of a lifetime.

At least one top developer, veteran tower builder John Hynes, is already throwing his hat in the ring. Hynes, who built the new State Street headquarters tower near South Station, already has his hands full.

The grandson of a legendary Boston mayor and son of newscaster Jack Hynes is overseeing the redevelopment of the landmark Filene’s complex and drawing up plans for a new neighborhood on South Boston’s waterfront.

But he would make room on his plate to take a swing at redeveloping the 9-acre City Hall site.

“Are you kidding me?” an incredulous Hynes responded when asked if he was interested.“Oh’ yeah, I am.”

Still, he’s likely to have some fierce competition.

Other players seen as likely to line up for a shot at this deal include New York’s Tishman Speyer Properties; Prudential Center owner Boston Properties, headed by media mogul Mortimer Zuckerman; and Forest City, known for ambitious mini-city plans.

There’s also an obvious local possibility as well: Alan Leventhal, son of pioneering Boston developer Norman Leventhal and head of a multibillion-dollar Beacon Capital real estate empire.

Norman and his son Alan are best known for Boston landmarks such as Rowes Wharf and the acclaimed Post Office Square park and garage. Norman, meanwhile, served on a mayoral task forced that looked at ways to redevelop City Hall Plaza.

The site is also large enough to attract players from around the world, including investors from both Asia and Europe, Hynes said.

Why so much interest in a windswept piece of property that’s been long reviled as a failure?

Big cities are not creating new land downtown anymore, with few comparable opportunities in other major cities nationally, and maybe beyond. It’s like New York City opening up part of Central Park for tower developers.

“This is city building time,” said top Boston attorney and one-time City Councilor Larry DiCara.


Plaza plea: Save the brutalism!
By Jay Fitzgerald
Boston Herald General Economics Reporter
Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - Updated: 12:48 AM EST

Perhaps it’s not economically viable.

But I say to those who want to sell and tear down the new Boston City Hall: Save the brutalism!

There’s no doubt that City Hall Plaza as a whole is a disaster - and I can’t blame Mayor Thomas M. Menino for wanting to vacate the “new” City Hall for Southie, as he proposed yesterday.

But the key words are “as a whole” when it comes to City Hall Plaza.

There’s no problem with the exterior design of the “brutalist modern” City Hall, opened in the late 1960s. It’s the desolate plaza outside and utterly depressing interior that numb the soul.

How bad is the vast brick plaza? It was recently put on the Project for Public Spaces’ “Hall of Shame” as one of the worst public gathering places in America.

Let’s not get into the dreary interior, which would make even Bobby “Don’t Worry Be Happy” McFerrin beg for Prozac if he had to work there every day.

The problem with City Hall Plaza “as a whole” can be traced to the guiding 1960s philosophy of its architects, Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles, who reveled in their “brutalist modern” views.

“We have moved,” architect Gerhard Kallmann once wrote, “toward an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man - without identity or presence.”

Brutalalist modern design distilled into brutalist prose.

But sometimes even those trying to shock the bourgeois get things right, and in this case the exterior of “new” City Hall is striking, original and memorable.

I’m not alone in believing that the exterior has its own elegance. The building has won numerous design awards and is consistently ranked as one of the best buildings of the century.

Saving City Hall might not be a popular idea with developers. Preserving the shell of the building - while gutting the interior and replacing the brick plaza with a beautiful public garden of some sort - would cost millions.

Mayor Menino wants to sell the whole plaza to pay for a “new new” City Hall in Southie.

But think about it: Do you really believe yet another new drab skyscraper will enhance the post-City Hall Plaza area? Do you really trust the same city government that OK’d the current City Hall Plaza to get it right the second time around in Southie?

A more pragmatic approach has always been to fix what should have been fixed decades ago.





Dec 13, 2006, 6:59 AM
I have such fond memories of this place.

Dec 13, 2006, 7:09 AM
Please tear that ugly thing down!

Dec 13, 2006, 7:12 AM
I agree that the plaza is the main problem, City Hall itself is an interesting building that needs to gutted on the inside - but is otherwise an OK building. Just tearing out the plaza and turning it into a park would change the space from an overwhelmingly brutalist space into a weird futurist space (then cover City Hall in plants and turn it into a kind of Yavin type thing :) )

Dec 13, 2006, 7:27 AM
What a chance of a lifetime to see this horrific, monstrous example of "urban renewal" to be corrected! Boston can once again become whole.

Dec 13, 2006, 7:27 AM
Wasn't there a plan a few years ago to reopen some of the streets that used to pass through City Hall Plaza (in the Scollay Square era)?

I think Boston City Hall is a classic, but I've never liked how it meets Congress Street.

Dec 13, 2006, 8:48 AM
Mayor says he'll build waterfront City Hall
S. Boston site; current location to be developed
By Matt Viser and Donovan Slack, Globe Staff | December 13, 2006

Mayor Thomas M. Menino , saying he wants to make a statement that will lead Boston into the future, announced he intends to build an "architecturally magnificent" City Hall on the South Boston waterfront, an undertaking that would turn over to developers the current controversial behemoth on City Hall Plaza and shift the locus of city government to a more remote outpost of the city.

"This new building will bring together the city's past and its future, at a site that unites the history of our harbor with the promise of tomorrow's Boston," Menino told business leaders at a breakfast gathering at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.

But the plans, like the building that currently houses City Hall, drew sharply divided reactions. Community leaders including Senator Jack Hart of South Boston hailed it as visionary. But city workers worried about longer commutes to the waterfront, and residents, accustomed to their government's central location near stops on four subway lines, wondered about parking and access by public transportation.

"Let me see, how to say this delicately: I don't think this is a good idea," said Thomas H. O'Connor, a South Boston native who has written several books on Boston's history, including "Building A New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal."

"It's supposed to be a teeming, busy City Hall, and he's going to stick it way the hell out on the peninsula in South Boston, where it will be all alone?" he said.

The Brutalist style concrete City Hall of the present has been the butt of jokes and an object of scorn for decades, even as it wins continuing praise from architects and critics. But confronted with the possibility of losing it, some spoke with nostalgia yesterday.

"It is ugly, but it's just something that's always been there," said Paula Bakerian, 35, a native Bostonian. "That's like trying to rip down Fenway Park."

Menino has long disliked the present City Hall, a massive concrete building that some have compared to a prison, along with the windswept expanse of brick that surrounds it. His past attempts to improve it -- a proposed restaurant, a roof garden to help regulate its extremes in temperature -- mostly fell short, and two previous attempts to relocate fizzled. But Menino says he is now committed.

Calling the project "The Gateway to Boston at the Harborside," Menino said he wants it to recall the city's maritime history. And with 1,200 city employees coming to the area daily, he said, it would help invigorate the emerging waterfront business district. Menino told the business leaders he wants to break ground on the project within the next 18 months at a 13-acre city-owned parcel called Drydock Four, currently used by the Bank of America Pavilion. The pavilion would probably be moved to a location nearby, he said.

The bustle of this building will increase the activity of those new blocks, creating the vitality we envisioned not so long ago, when the waterfront was still just a string of parking lots," Menino said.

The mayor was also clearly inspired by the new Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront, referencing the new building twice in his speech and saying he wants to mimic its "coexistence with its environment, and the experience it offers to visitors."

Responses from employees in City Hall yesterday varied from delight to skepticism, from "Oooh! That's a good idea!" to "I'll believe it when I see it." One woman said she would rather drive than take the Silver Line. "If we move I'm going to make sure they give me a parking spot," she said.

Waterfront business owners said they were concerned with the prospect of increased traffic in the neighborhood, while residents focused on the longer trip to the new site.

Currently, residents can easily get to City Hall by taking the Blue or Green lines to Government Center, or the Orange or Red lines to Downtown Crossing. To visit City Hall in its new location, residents would have to take the Silver Line from South Station to the Silver Line Way stop. It took a Globe reporter 21 minutes yesterday to ride the T from Government Center to South Station and then the Silver Line to the proposed location in South Boston.

Views from the city-owned property include fishing boats and Logan Airport's control tower across the harbor, and any majestic view of the downtown skyline is blocked by buildings at Boston Fish Pier. But it is in an area of South Boston that has been rapidly changing, with new condominiums and rest aurants moving in next to industrial parks and fishing plants.

Yesterday's announcement fueled additional political speculation about Menino, widely thought to be in his final term in office.

"This raises speculation if he goes forward with this," said Sam R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. In order to oversee the building of a new City Hall -- which would be a major stamp on Menino's legacy -- he would have to stay for at least one more term, some said.

"It is rare for a fourth-term mayor, especially a fourth-term mayor that's 60-something years old, to come up with these ideas," said Lawrence S. DiCara , a former city councilor. "I think part of this is a message from Tom to the world: 'I'm not hanging it up yet.' "



Dec 13, 2006, 9:46 PM
I really hope this happens because

a) it will free up room downtown for more development

b) it will help develop Bostons improving waterfront

c) it will get rid of an ugly example of urban renewel

Dec 13, 2006, 10:20 PM
Why move city hall though? I would assume all the support offices are already downtown. Let the developer build your new city hall into whatever they're going to build.

Dec 13, 2006, 10:28 PM
I was really impressed by the Boston City Hall the first time I saw it, when I came across it on Wikipedia. Don't tear it down! The plaza in front, sure.

Dec 13, 2006, 11:01 PM
Why move city hall though? I would assume all the support offices are already downtown. Let the developer build your new city hall into whatever they're going to build.

what are you saying? have city hall apart of a bigger development?

Dec 13, 2006, 11:08 PM
as for why he wants to move it to the water front:

Calling the project "The Gateway to Boston at the Harborside," Menino said he wants it to recall the city's maritime history. And with 1,200 city employees coming to the area daily, he said, it would help invigorate the emerging waterfront business district. Menino told the business leaders he wants to break ground on the project within the next 18 months at a 13-acre city-owned parcel called Drydock Four, currently used by the Bank of America Pavilion. The pavilion would probably be moved to a location nearby, he said.

Dec 13, 2006, 11:13 PM
what are you saying? have city hall apart of a bigger development?

Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.

Dec 14, 2006, 12:54 AM
that would be pretty weird. City hall should be a building on its own, its a symbol of the city.

Dec 14, 2006, 1:55 AM
City Hall should be saved imo. It's architecturaly very unique and I really don't think it's that bad. Fuck the rest of government center though.

Dec 14, 2006, 3:35 AM
they should convert the city hall into a mausoleum for LeCorbusier

Dec 14, 2006, 5:58 AM
Unfortunately way to many city halls in this country are very forgettable.

It says alot that a city would sell its city hall. Something like that would NEVER happen in Philly or Milwaukee. If this happens, I hope Boston's new city hall returns to great civic architecture. Not simply a reflexion of budget constraints and current architectural fads.

Dec 15, 2006, 4:23 AM
I wonder if they could get the old Boston City Hall back? There used to be a french restaurant in it - not sure if it's still there (the restaurant - I know the building is still there).

Dec 15, 2006, 6:01 AM
This is probably the best news I've ever heard for Boston. This is finally a chance to further erase the horrid memories of the destructiveness from the mid-20th century urban-removal "projects" (more like, crimes against humanity).

That whole piece just doesn't work as a public space anyway. Yes, there is the T stop which gets a lot of traffic....though only from the stop to the offices towards to the south, or, down the corridor leading towards Faneuil Hall, completely bypassing the intended public space. The problem is that the location of the current city hall and the open space splices a particular section of the city into an awkward meeting point between zones that do not share common threads. Thus, this creates the ghost town of brick pavement. Both geographically and culturally the Faneuil Hall area is a focal point in the city. The streets, walkways, and the lay of the land (as the naturally hilly are is making its way towards sea-level) seem to want to end up there in the near vicinity. Government Center seems to disrupt the whole natural flow.

Dec 15, 2006, 3:34 PM
I love the pro-active steps that cities like Boston, NYC, Chicago take in order to do whats right for city. Cool to hear that this digusting bldg is going to be coming down!

Dec 15, 2006, 5:24 PM
I happen to like brutalism and especially city hall. i don't see why people think it's so ugly!

Dec 15, 2006, 5:49 PM
It's not so bad, there certainly are worse brutalist buildings. Anyway, I too like Brutalist architecture.

Dec 15, 2006, 7:49 PM
Huh. For some reason I guess I expected New Englanders to be more adamant about preserving their history. Especially a city with such historical significance as Boston.

Dec 15, 2006, 9:49 PM
I'm in the small camp who like the current buidling.
50 years from now people would regret having torn it down.

Dec 15, 2006, 10:12 PM
I have such bad memories of Boston's city hall--such an alienating, fugly, depressing building and plaza--and I'd like to see it replaced. But South Boston? Keep it in Government Center and develop the rest of the area, IMO.

Dec 15, 2006, 10:54 PM
Opposition Growing to City Hall Sale

BOSTON - Preservationists and architects are scrambling to save City Hall from the wrecking ball, citing the brick and concrete building’s significance as an example of classic modernism. Earlier in the week during an annual address, Mayor Thomas Menino revealed plans to sell the current City Hall property and construct a new facility in the South part of Boston.

Susan Park, head of the Boston Preservation Alliance, tells GlobeSt.com that members of the non-profit organization will meet next Wednesday to discuss the Mayor’s plans.

“In today’s world, is City Hall the most efficient building going? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have architectural significance,” says Park, adding that she expects the alliance to issue a statement on its position following next week’s meeting.

Architect David Fixler, a principal with Einhorn Yaffe Prescott and president of the New England Chapter of Docomomo, an organization that promotes the documentation and conservation of buildings considered to be part of the modern movement, tells GlobeSt.com that members are concerned the structure, once hailed as one of the most significant buildings in the country, will be destroyed.

“This is a building that has always had its troubles but it has a place in history,” says Fixler, noting that the building and the surrounding plaza has hosted everything from anti-war and desegregation demonstrations to summertime concerts during its 40-year history.

Fixler, who has worked on the building, says the structure has always been treated as a historic building by preservation groups, the Boston Landmarks Commission and the National Trust.

“It has become Boston’s great public gathering space. In that sense, it has become the locus of civic life,” Fixler says.

But the building also has architectural significance, he notes. An award-winning building that has long been considered an architectural marvel by architects, City Hall was named one of the 10 most significant buildings in the United States in the mid-1970s by members of the American Institute of Architects, Fixler says. Today, it remains an example of classic modernist style.

Fixler says he expects Docomomo will take a position on the building’s sale in hopes of preserving the structure that he says remains symbolic of Boston’s rebirth as a world class city.

Link (http://www.globest.com/news/803_803/boston/151434-1.html)

Dec 16, 2006, 5:12 AM
What's so architecturally significant about it? It looks like a North Korean prison. Do these "preservationists" have any idea what the area looked like prior to its addition? Oddly enough, the Boston Architectural Center is also one of the ugliest buildings in the city. One of the only pics you'll find of it is actually the mural of a domed neo-classicl building on its West wall. It too is a Brutalist building. I do think, however, that Brutalist buildings can be nice in proper context, I just don't think this is one of them.

I do agree with fflint that it shouldn't be placed in South Boston, though.