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South Shore ferry backers stress its impact

They argue loss would hit economy

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

An MBTA commuter ferry near Rowes Wharf early last month. Grounding the T’s South Shore fleet would greatly impact development built around such transit, ferry backers argue.

The MBTA’s budget-cutting proposal to ground the commuter ferries could cost businesses on the South Shore lots of money, and especially undermine the 1.2 million-square-foot development growing up around the Hingham boats.

That’s the word from local politicians and business people who hope their concerns register with transit officials holding hearings across the region - including in Hingham, Hull, and Quincy, which each have ferry docks.

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The MBTA has proposed fare hikes and service reductions to help patch a $161 million hole in its annual budget. The plan includes eliminating boat service, a saving of $3.7 million that affects an estimated 350,000 commuter trips annually.

Local officials said they can’t put a dollar amount on the impact that losing the boats would have on the regional economy. But they said it would be substantial.

“It takes a lot of time to crunch the numbers, and there are a lot of variables,’’ said state Representative Garrett Bradley, a Hingham Democrat who has been working to save the boats. “I can’t quantify it, but I can tell you it won’t be good.’’

Peter Forman, president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“We’ve argued pretty loudly that eliminating ferry services will have a regional economic impact, without putting a price tag on that,’’ he said.

“The impact will come from pulling the rug out on the transit-oriented development that the South Shore has built and is planning to build’’ with the state’s encouragement.

Bradley said the state, in fact, contributed $2 million to the Hingham Shipyard project because it was centered around the commuter boat terminal.

Three developers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars building apartments, condominiums, offices, and retail outlets along the waterfront where workers built and launched 227 warships during the Second World War - with the draw that the MBTA’s commuter boat is right there.

“The commuter boat is an integral part of the Hingham Shipyard,’’ said Leslie G. Cohen of Samuels and Associates, one of the companies developing the Hingham site.

“The shipyard was planned as a transit-oriented development that not only took a private waterfront and made it open to the public but provided a high-quality amenity to the end-users of the shipyard of access to water transportation.

“Losing the commuter boat would be a huge loss for all aspects of the shipyard and the community at large,’’ she said. “Our shops and restaurants rely on the daily commuter traffic coming in and out of the shipyard, [people] who chose to extend their stay by going to the gym, grocery shopping, seeing a movie, grabbing a bite to eat, and more.’’

The boat also is a major selling point for the 26 condominiums that Samuels is building, she said, adding the company plans to build another 68 in the future.

“It’s a great addition, having the commuter boat there,’’ said Paul Wahlberg, who runs two restaurants at the shipyard and is opening a third with his celebrity brothers Mark and Donnie. Not only do commuters come in after work, or come back with their families, but people also use the boat to come from Boston to the shipyard, Wahlberg said.

“During the nice weather, we have lots of people who take the boat in from the city, have dinner, and then take it back. It’s like a mini-getaway for them,’’ he said.

Justine Mignosa, assistant manager of The Fresh Market grocery at the shipyard, said losing the boat would definitely hurt business.

“A large portion of our business comes from the commuters, especially from 5 to 7 at night when a lot of people are picking up stuff for dinner,’’ she said.

About a third of the 450 residents living in the 235 apartments at Avalon at the Hingham Shipyard use the commuter ferry and the service is “a key component in attracting residents,’’ according to Avalon vice president Michael Roberts.

“The ferry service was a driving factor in [our] decision to build at the shipyard,’’ Roberts said. “The master plan of the Hingham Shipyard was, literally, designed around the ferry.’’

Similarly, the company building 150 townhouses at the shipyard uses the ferry service in its marketing. “It’s part of the lifestyle, the overall picture of what people are coming to the shipyard for,’’ said Jed Lowry, spokesman for Lennar’s Hewitt Landing.

Quincy, meanwhile, is building tourism around the ferry service and would also be directed affected by the loss of commuter boats, Forman said.

And the potential development of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy relies on the boat connection to Boston and Logan Airport, he said. There are no firm plans, but “this is a future giant economic development project for the South Shore’’ that would be adversely affected by the loss of the ferries, he said.

Forman said the impact on Hull is less obvious but still substantial. People move to Hull because of the commuter boat, and its elimination could hurt property values, other businesses in the area, and the already difficult task of bringing in commercial development, he said.

“The MBTA views [its] mission around people-moving,’’ he said. “We’re trying to make the argument that it isn’t just about moving people. It’s about building an economy. The problem for the MBTA is that all the taxes and money that come from the development on land [as a result of the commuter boats] doesn’t go to the MBTA. I understand their dilemma.’’

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