It probably wasn’t the best time to bring this up with Brian Golden, acting director of the BRA — after a ceremonial toss of dirt to mark the groundbreaking for yet another office tower on the Southie waterfront.
But there’s really no good time to talk about how the development community finds it hard to get things done through the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Two months into the Walsh administration, developers and their entourages didn’t do much complaining, indulging the new team with a long honeymoon. In recent weeks, however, the tone has changed, and frustration is building as developers lose patience with waiting for basic guidance on how to proceed on projects.
The problem, they say, has been that Mayor Marty Walsh has adopted a hands-off approach to development — but without handing it off to anyone in particular. Yes, Golden is the acting director – and people think he’s as nice as they come — and then there’s the smart and affable John Barros, in a newly created role as chief economic development officer overseeing the BRA.
Yet in all of this, not enough decisions are being made. It’s as if the BRA, conditioned for so long to work at the whim of Tom Menino, forgot how to function on its own.
Now Golden doesn’t really want to hear any of this. He will tell you the “exact opposite is occurring.” In fact, despite all of the projects rushed onto the BRA agenda at the end of the Menino administration, Golden said that under Walsh, “we’re busier because we have a new mayor who is very committed to hitting the ground running.”
Golden said he has been meeting with developers, projects are moving forward, cranes are in the sky. He was rather blunt, if not defiant, about it all, speaking much like the Army Reserve officer he is — as evidenced by the “high-and-tight” military haircut he sports.
“I’d be curious who has felt things have been going slowly so I might be able to address them,” Golden told me last week after he, along with Walsh and a conga line of VIPs, put shovels in the ground on developer Joe Fallon’s Fan Pier high-rise, a project approved long ago.
“I don’t think there is any significant development that is not getting the attention it deserves, or from me personally,” Golden said.
The acting director went on to say that he has worked to establish an “open door” policy, with developers always welcome and discussions followed by action plans.
He didn’t stop there, as much as I wanted him to, because it was getting way too cold to be standing outside, gloveless and taking notes. He offered that developers who are complaining simply aren’t getting their way.
“There is a difference between not getting what you want and not getting immediate attention,” he said.
Translation: Developers can whine with the best of them.
Is this much ado about nothing, or is Boston about to lose its development mojo?
As you probably know by now, Walsh is in the middle of reforming the BRA, and until an audit of the agency is done, sometime in April, he’s not going to begin a serious search for a permanent director. And that makes all the sense in the world, because it’s hard to hire someone without a job description.
It’s unlikely to be Golden, even though
in recent weeks he has moved into the director’s office, which suggests to me that it might be a while before Walsh picks a director.
Developers are on board with all of that. They get that Walsh has been focused on more pressing issues — like snowstorms and gun violence — but it’s time for him to turn his attention to building out the city. The mayor needs to send a clear message from his fifth-floor office to the BRA on the ninth floor about who’s making critical development decisions.
Will it be Golden, Barros, or himself?
Developers aren’t really asking for much. They just want to know who to kowtow to.