As the Seaport District rapidly transitions into a bustling neighborhood, one section of that vast territory remains grossly underutilized — neither a community nor a commercial hub, just fallow.
But, this being Boston, attempts to fill in those vacant acres along the D Street corridor near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center will, of course, have their detractors. Such is life in a part of town where once even using the name “Seaport District” — instead of Southie — could earn the uninitiated a stern reprimand.
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which owns the land it no longer needs for its own future expansion, has two promising bids in hand to turn three parcels totaling 6.2 acres into something other than the dustbins they currently are. This is good news, right?
Well, not to four local politicians who seem to think it’s a distressing development.
State Senator Nick Collins, Representative David Biele, Boston City Council President Ed Flynn, and Councilor Michael Flaherty sent a letter to MCCA executive director David Gibbons calling for a halt in the proposed development of the three MCCA-owned parcels, two on D Street, and one on E Street, under a 99-year ground lease.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in our careers,” they wrote. “Your decision to bypass the residents of South Boston and its elected officials by providing no opportunity for meaningful community process and input is alarming to say the least.”
The letter raised the issue of the original land-taking about a decade ago to allow for possible expansion of the BCEC, which did make use of the state’s eminent domain powers (albeit in a “friendly taking” in which the seller consented and turned a tidy profit). And eminent domain does indeed require a public purpose, an issue raised by the four politicians.
There is a plan on the drawing boards for a $400 million expansion and modernization of the BCEC, including the addition of a ballroom and a new D Street entrance — the Pavilion on D — but nothing that would require use of the three parcels in question, which do not adjoin the BCEC property.
So what public purpose could be served instead? Decades ago, before the BCEC took the land, it was being eyed as the site of 585 residential units. Then the 2007-2008 recession hit the real estate market.
Sadly, neither of the two bids received by the MCCA contain any mention of housing. But they still have worthy features.
The bid by Cronin Development proposes three towers on the D Street parcel, the tallest at 214 feet, with two connected by a sky bridge and totaling about 1.1 million square feet of office, lab, and retail space, plus a third tower on E Street. The D Street complex would include a grocery store — much needed in that part of town — a food hall, performance space, and an art gallery with a relationship to the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design, a historically Black college in Detroit.
A second bid by Boston Global Investors proposes three buildings totaling 550,000 square feet, also largely devoted to office and lab space, plus a 64,000-square-foot grocery store with a “green roof” for urban farming and community functions. A second phase on the E Street property would include lab space and a possible biomanufacturing facility plus open space.
Both proposals include underground parking, much of it reserved for use by the BCEC, and office space for the MCCA required by its request for proposals.
What the MCCA also wants is a return on an investment — an investment made by a previous board and a previous administration, but one which helped create a vast wasteland of unused assets. The income from the lease in question could help finance the proposed BCEC expansion, which would have to be approved by the Legislature. The expansion would in turn help cover the gap that closing the Hynes Convention Center for a possible two-year renovation — should that be approved by lawmakers — would require.
Making use of those vacant parcels is a win-win-win for the city, the neighborhood, and the convention center. It shouldn’t be left to the whim of a handful of those with a far narrower agenda.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.