fb-pixel Skip to main content
bold types

Mass. General Hospital grant enables West End Museum to hire its first salaried executive director

Regional chambers join forces on Beacon Hill; real estate leaders speak up for First Republic; Another Mass. resident is on shortlist for federal energy post; Inclusion proves a winner for J.Jill

Sebastian Belfanti, executive director of the West End Museum.Chris Morris

Sebastian Belfanti went to school to study rocks, but ended up digging into something quite different: the urban renewal that destroyed the West End.

Now, Belfanti’s full-time job is to shine a spotlight on that sordid chapter of Boston’s history — thanks to a $3.65 million pledge from Massachusetts General Hospital to the West End Museum.

“It’s been really exciting . . . to strongly address these very challenging histories that either don’t get told enough, or at all,” said Belfanti, the museum’s first paid executive director. “I still read accounts of this and go, like, ‘No way.’ It just seems impossible.”


Belfanti worked for the museum on a contractual basis until last fall, when the MGH grant allowed the museum to triple its budget to more than $300,000 and bring Belfanti on staff. It’s part of the hospital’s $47 million mitigation package to help win city approval of a massive expansion along Cambridge Street, one that led to demolishing three old West End buildings.

The pledge resulted from negotiations orchestrated by Representative Jay Livingstone and city Councilor Kenzie Bok. While the total became public last year, specifics were just announced last week at the museum’s annual celebration. The MGH grant consists of $1 million for the museum’s endowment, $250,000 annually over 10 years in operating support, and $150,000 for an exhibit in the new expansion. MGH executive Nick Haney joined the museum’s board on an ex-officio basis as a result.

Belfanti’s job has been complicated by a January 2022 flood from burst sprinkler pipes a few floors above the museum, which is in a building on Lomasney Way, near TD Garden. The offices and exhibits were destroyed, although most of the archives survived. Belfanti hopes to reopen the space to the public later this year. He’s looking to raise additional funds to help cover the cost of rebuilding.


This isn’t the career Belfanti originally envisioned. Belfanti was pursuing a doctorate in igneous petrology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, before moving to Melrose, where his parents were living, in 2018. He became fascinated with the 50 acres that made up the “Old West End” that were razed in the name of progress in the late 1950s, and the lives of the 12,000-plus residents who were displaced. He began volunteering for the museum in 2019, and became its director of operations in early 2020.

The MGH grant also allowed the museum to hire a curator/archivist. That’s Bob Potenza, a former Ikea executive who got his master’s degree in history and archives management from UMass Boston last year.

“He’s been a huge asset,” Belfanti said of Potenza. “We’re a small institution . . . I joke I got very good about moving around 400-pound pieces of furniture on my own. It’s a lot easier to do it with two people.”

Jim Rooney, the president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, conducted a Q&A with Susan Collins, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, on Sept. 26, 2022.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Chambers . . . Unite!

When you have a daunting mission to accomplish — like making Massachusetts a more competitive place to do business — sometimes there’s strength in numbers.

That’s why Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, has assembled a new coalition of major chambers, the Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce Policy Network. Membership is currently limited to the state’s 10 largest chambers, though Rooney expects to open it to others next year. Founding members include Tim Murray at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Peter Forman at the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, Karen Andreas at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, and Greg Reibman at the Charles River Regional Chamber. Chambers from Springfield, the South Coast, Cape Cod, and the Berkshires are also represented.


Rooney said he’s reacting to what he describes as threats to the state’s competitiveness such as the new income tax surcharge on high earners (aka the “millionaires tax”) and the housing crisis. He sees the new network as a potentially powerful platform for the business community to make its case to state and federal lawmakers about public policy issues. Rooney’s chamber represents about 1,300 businesses, and the 10 chambers together represent more than 10,000.

“We’re trying to create an amplified voice for the business community,” Rooney said. “It’s a powerful platform if and when we achieve consensus on an issue.”

Standing up for First Republic Bank

Following Silicon Valley Bank’s demise, the fate of First Republic Bank has transfixed the Boston business community. San Francisco-based First Republic is the sixth largest retail bank in Massachusetts, and many businesspeople appreciate the one-on-one attention they get there. There was widespread dismay as clients yanked deposits out of First Republic, much as with SVB the previous week.

To show solidarity, law firm Dalton & Finegold reached out to clients and associates in the real estate industry early last week to see if they would sign a letter of support. (State Senator Barry Finegold is managing partner at the firm.) Eventually, the group started circulating a memo of support via LinkedIn and e-mail on Thursday, not long before a group of big banks led by JPMorgan Chase provided additional capital to First Republic to help it manage its outflows. (Shares continued to fall on Monday, and the Wall Street Journal reported JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon was trying to craft a new rescue plan.)


The short Boston statement essentially expresses the important role First Republic plays locally. Signatories include Mount Vernon Co., the Davis Cos., HYM Investment Group, and other firms, as well as prominent individuals such as Rob Griffin and Tracy Campion.

“We don’t know where it’s going to go but we stand with them,” EJ Schneider, a partner at Dalton & Finegold, said of First Republic. “We think they have a bright future if they can weather the storm here.”

Bruce Percelay, founder of Mount Vernon, added: “They’re great to work with. No one wants to have their portfolios managed by large, faceless money center banks.”

Always a Massachusetts connection

Massachusetts could soon be sending someone again to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, now that Judy Chang has been mentioned as a front-runner for an open seat at the federal agency.

Former Massachusetts utility executive Cheryl LaFleur served on FERC for nine years before stepping down in 2019. Now, it could be Chang’s time to step up.

E&E News reported that Chang, who was most recently Charlie Baker’s undersecretary of energy and climate solutions, has moved to the front of the line for the Biden administration’s choice to replace former chairman Richard Glick, a Democrat who stepped down in January. Senator Joe Manchin had opposed Glick’s renomination, leaving FERC with four commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans.


Chang joined the Baker administration in 2000 after more than two decades at consulting firm the Brattle Group. She’s now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School — along with former Baker administration colleagues Jamey Tesler and Steve Poftak.

J.Jill chief executive Claire Spofford in her office on Sept. 7, 2016. Paul Hayes

J.Jill’s inclusive marketing pays off

Welcoming everybody is apparently paying off for J.Jill.

The Quincy company last summer launched its “Welcome Everybody” campaign, designed by an in-house creative team. The marketing is aimed at a wider variety of women, while stores now carry “2X” sizes (previously only available online), and they charge the same price for a particular clothing item, regardless of size, ending “upcharges” for certain bigger sizes.

Last week, the company reported a better-than-expected revenue increase of 1.7 percent in the quarter just ended, compared to the same time a year ago, while sales in stores open at least a year rose 5.3 percent — improvements over the previous two quarters. Chief executive Claire Spofford said the company’s research shows the “Welcome Everybody” campaign is resonating and it’s translating into new customers.

“It’s not just about size or ethnicity or what you do for a living,” Spofford said. “It’s about the ‘whole you.’ It’s a very individualistic message to the customer: Not everything works the same way for everybody.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.