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Landsmark appointment to BRA board back on track

Ted Landsmark failed to tell the mayor that he was about to be ousted as president of Boston Architectural College.

Ted Landsmark failed to tell the mayor that he was about to be ousted as president of Boston Architectural College.

Theodore “Ted” Landsmark seemed like a safe bet when Mayor Martin J. Walsh made him his first appointment to the Boston Redevelopment Authority board he has pledged to reform.

A Yale-trained lawyer with an environmental design degree and a Boston University PhD, Landsmark was president of Boston Architectural College and a noted champion of diversity. He was a veteran of nonprofit boards and, nearing retirement at age 68, still had an appetite for the part-time but politically charged role of approving Boston’s future skyline.

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But Landsmark had a problem he didn’t tell the mayor about during their discussions — he was about to be ousted from the college he had led for 17 years as it struggled financially.

After a rocky two weeks, Landsmark’s nomination is now back on track. The mayor had put the appointment on hold while lawyers battled out Landsmark’s separation package with the school.

“We’re pleased to see that the college and Dr. Landsmark came to an amicable agreement, and we look forward to the fresh perspective that he’ll offer in his new role at the BRA,’’ said Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

The abrupt dismissal had embarrassed everyone involved, several people affiliated with the school and city government said. On July 29, when the mayor announced Landsmark’s nomination, Walsh and his staff had no idea the college president had been dismissed from his job five days earlier.

They were stunned to learn the news from a Globe report. Confusion reigned for the next 24 hours, as Walsh and Landsmark traded voicemails and missed each other’s calls.

‘Landsmark’s history, in terms of architecture and the arts in Boston, it’s pretty extraordinary.’

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This week, the school finally announced it had reached a deal on Landsmark’s exit package. The college’s longtime boss will become “president emeritus.” But he will have no formal role with the school and no office there.

It was a humbling conclusion for a man who had likened his own retirement planning to that of mayors Thomas Menino or Kevin White. Landsmark had grown accustomed to the spotlight long ago, after he was captured in a famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, being jabbed by an angry South Boston protester with an American flag on a pole, during a busing riot in 1976. Landsmark went on to became a prominent voice in Boston for civil rights.

The college board might have been in a hurry to part ways with its leader. But Landsmark, known for his intellect and a commanding presence some found domineering, maintained a strong well of support in the community.

“It bodes well for Mayor Walsh in terms of what he’s trying to do,’’ said Steve Hollinger, an artist and longtime resident of the Fort Point Channel neighborhood. “Landsmark’s history, in terms of architecture and the arts in Boston, it’s pretty extraordinary. We need that level of thinking, in terms of vision.”

Landsmark is credited with overseeing the school’s conversion from a center to an accredited college offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He also helped make the program, long devoted to working students, one of the most diverse in the country.

But Landsmark could come across as arrogant in the academic setting, former colleagues say.

“He has not learned the dangers of his own brilliance,’’ said Peter Papesch, an architect and a former faculty member and chairman at Boston Architectural College who now co-chairs the Sustainability Education Committee at the Boston Society of Architects. “His challenge at the BRA will be persuading his peers on the board level. Because all of a sudden he is a peer; he may be a very vociferous peer, but he is a peer.”

Landsmark was not available for an interview. In the school’s press release, he said he was looking forward to “serving as president emeritus and moving to this next stage of my career.’’

His tenure at the college was marked by a period of increased spending, as the Newbury Street-based school hired more administrators and expanded its footprint in pricey Back Bay by acquiring the former Institute of Contemporary Art building on Boylston Street in 2007.

Landsmark has sought to burnish his reputation in the realm of sustainable development. On his watch, the college built a Green Alley between Boylston and Newbury streets, outfitted with permeable pavement, so water can seep through, and a geothermal well system to heat and cool buildings.

But critics say the school’s Brutalist style building on Newbury Street, built of cement like City Hall, leaks heat and is expensive to keep warm in winter.

Known for its shoestring budgets, the college has allowed expenses to rise slightly faster than revenues over the past six years. Last year, the school collected $19.4 million in revenue and spent $19.1 million.

Landsmark’s salary rose 32 percent from 2007 through 2013, to $227,615, according to school tax filings, though his benefits fluctuated. BRA directors receive a $10,000 annual stipend for attending monthly meetings.

If Landsmark is approved by the City Council, it would mark his return to city government. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked for the city on community partnerships and workforce training, as well as anti-violence programs.

Russel Feldman, a recent former chairman of Boston Architectural College, said of Landsmark, “He really has a good sense of what cities are doing and how to make cities more inclusive, and how to make them dynamic and how to deal with the challenge of resources.’’

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.
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