The first time I ever saw Mayor Thomas Menino in person was 1997. I went over to what was then the Computer Museum — now it’s part of the Boston Children’s Museum — for an event that was promoting the neighborhood as Boston’s Cyber District. Web-design shops and Internet consultancies were starting to fill the old brick warehouses of Fort Point Channel.
“I want this city to grow and show its technology leadership,” the mayor said at that event. “We need to continually educate people about what’s going on here.”
The Cyber District moniker didn’t stick, so I was skeptical a dozen or so years later when Menino and his staff began promoting the name Innovation District.
Others felt the brand was too buzzwordy. But Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, told me then that the main objective was to “create a big tent to encourage more businesses to consider Fort Point Channel, the waterfront, and the Marine Industrial Park.’’
Menino and his staff didn’t just start tossing about the name Innovation District, they persuaded companies to fill it, and they cajoled developer John Hynes to create District Hall, a gathering place for the neighborhood.
By the end of his two decades in office, there was a rooftop farm at the Boston Design Center; an enormous startup accelerator program at Fan Pier; plenty of places to eat and drink; and big companies like LogMeIn, Zipcar, and Vertex choosing the neighborhood over Cambridge or the suburbs.
The Innovation District also drew venture capital firms from the woods of Waltham.
(Google chairman Eric Schmidt was speaking in the Innovation District Wednesday night, as part of the MassChallenge awards ceremony, which doled out $1.75 million to startups.)
I happened to be at a conference in the Innovation District Thursday when I heard about Menino’s death.
There were cranes all around, adding to the neighborhood’s skyline.
In 2014, not only do people use the name Innovation District to describe where their company is based — or where they’re heading for a meetup or a demo day — but the conversation has shifted to how to create Innovation Districts in other parts of the city, or in places that hope to spark entrepreneurial activity, like Holyoke.
I doubt that Menino’s playbook will work everywhere. But it worked here, mostly because Mayor Menino and his team had the vision and doggedness required to make it work.
Menino’s imprint can be seen all around Boston, but it is especially clear in this corner of it.