The state Transportation Department unexpectedly postponed a vote on a key lease agreement for the planned Fenway Center on Wednesday, sidetracking the $500 million megaproject that would turn cracked parking lots into a 1.3 million-square-foot mixed-use development.
Governor Deval Patrick’s administration had worked closely with the developer, John Rosenthal, for months to broker a $226 million, 99-year lease of 4.5 acres of state-owned land and air rights. Still, the agreement required the approval of the Transportation Department directors, which had been widely anticipated at a regularly scheduled board meeting.
But in a move board member Alan Macdonald described as a “complete surprise,” two other members asked to table the vote until the next meeting, on June 19, to gather more information.
Board member Janice Loux requested an outside review of the lease terms by an attorney or consultant before the next board meeting.
Another member, Andrew Whittle, requested to see an engineering report on the project and to speak with the person who prepared it, said Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the agency, in an e-mail. Whittle is the chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department at MIT.
‘It’s a very big project and that’s why I thought all the board members would be briefed in advance.’
Macdonald chairs the transportation board’s finance committee, which had reviewed the lease and an independent evaluation of its terms before endorsing the agreement. Loux wasn’t aware the outside evaluation had been conducted, Macdonald said. Loux and Whittle are not members of the finance committee.
“I verified that they [the consultant] certainly had done all of the research and analysis that was needed and come up with their own reasonable assessment,” Macdonald said. “I thought we would have been able to get a vote of the full board, and I had no inkling that there would be a request to postpone it.”
Macdonald said he was comfortable with the information in the engineering report, but some board members appeared to have not seen it.
“We’ve been trying to avoid situations like this with tabling and trying to make sure everyone has the information ahead of time,” Lavoie said. “We’ve just stepped backed a month, but I think the information exists that they want to see and hopefully next month they’ll take the vote.”
Neither Loux nor Whittle could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Rosenthal said the outside consultants, a lawyer and engineer, who worked closely on the deal were not at the meeting to provide answers.
“In all deference to the entire board, it’s a very big project and that’s why I thought all the board members would be briefed in advance,” Rosenthal said. “Unfortunately a few of them hadn’t been and therefore had legitimate questions that needed to be answered.”
He said the delay would not push back his plans to break ground on the first phase of the project by the end of the year.