In what is being billed as the largest-ever private gift for a state park in Massachusetts, the nonprofit Esplanade Association has pledged to donate more than $20 million to transform a section of the park along the Charles River in Boston near the Museum of Science.
The gift would fund $12 million in improvements, including a new year-round visitors center, in a two-acre area along Storrow Drive where the Lee Pool once stood until the Department of Conservation and Recreation leveled the long-neglected complex nearly two years ago. The association plans to raise another $2 million for an endowment, and at least $6 million to cover operations and maintenance for the site over the next three decades.
The Esplanade Association has dubbed the project Charlesbank Landing, and disclosed it to donors at its annual Moondance Gala, held at the park over the weekend. The association so far has raised about $8 million of its $20 million goal.
The 10,000-square-foot Charlesbank Landing pavilion would include a visitors center, the park’s first year-round public bathrooms, a café, a roof deck, and administrative offices. The outdoor spaces, which are next to the Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields, would include an event lawn, a nature play area, an outdoor classroom, and an athletic field for kids.
To pull it off, the association will need the Legislature’s help: Senator Sal DiDomenico is pursuing a bill on Beacon Hill that would let the association lease the two acres from DCR for at least 30 years. (Such bills are necessary for DCR to enter into any leases longer than 10 years.) The association would not pay any money directly for the lease, but the bill language requires the value of the public benefits, including the improvements and continued operating payments, to be in excess of the fair market value of the rent. The state administration committee approved the bill last week, forwarding it to the Senate ways and means committee.
The Charlesbank project has its origins in a public process led by the DCR in 2017 to figure out how best to use the Lee Pool site. However, the association started discussing with DCR how best to remake that section of the park years before that. Executive director Michael Nichols said the two acres sit at an important nexus near the Green Line at the eastern end of the 64-acre Esplanade park, which stretches from the Boston University Bridge to the Museum of Science.
This section of the park has seen tremendous renovation in the past two decades, Nichols said, including the reconstruction of the Ebersol fields and the development of the Alfond Memorial Spray Deck.
“This quarter-mile stretch of the park has gotten totally remade to support public access,” Nichols said in an e-mail. “The former Lee Pool site has served as the last piece of the puzzle.”