Proceeds from sale of Winthrop Square garage would go to parks, housing
One of the prime beneficiaries of a tower planned for the site of the Winthrop Square Garage could be the historic park over which it will cast a long shadow.
The Walsh administration Tuesday will propose using much of the $153 million the city will receive from the sale of the downtown garage for improvements to Boston Common, Franklin Park, and other greenspace and housing projects around Boston.
In all, city officials have earmarked $102 million in proceeds from the sale, which will likely close in early 2017, when Millennium Partners receives a building permit for the 775-foot condo and office tower it wants to build on the Winthrop Square property. The company will pay the final $51 million after sales on its units close, likely in a few years.
But by announcing their spending plans for much of the money so early, city officials may be trying to overcome objections that some residents and park advocates have expressed over the long shadows the tower is projected to cast over the Common and Public Garden in violation of a state law.
Early projections by Millennium show the tower could throw shadows as far as the Commonwealth Avenue Mall on some mornings. Park advocates are leery of City Hall’s proposal to get the shadow law amended to allow the Millennium building, fearing it could pave the wave for other new buildings to add to the shade over the parks.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in an interview, said he intends to change the shadow law only for the Winthrop Square project. And, while Millennium continues to refine its building design, Walsh suggested the city could reshape portions of the Common to minimize the effects of shade.
“Maybe we plant trees or move kiosks around,” he said. “There are ways to be creative and this is an opportunity for us to think about that.”
The spending plan announced Tuesday will include $28 million for Franklin Park, likely adding more access points from the surrounding neighborhoods, and to upgrade ball fields and other facilities. Franklin Park, Walsh noted, typically gets just a few hundred thousand dollars a year in physical upgrades.
“We’ve been doing Franklin Park piecemeal for a long time,” he said. “This would probably be the single biggest investment since it was built.”
Upgrades to Boston Common and Franklin Park were listed as priorities in the first draft of the Imagine Boston 2030 plan, which the city released Thursday. So was extending the Emerald Necklace, possibly with tree-lined bike lanes that run from Franklin Park down Columbia Park to Moakley Park in South Boston.
Then there’s housing. Walsh wants to allocate $25 million of the Winthrop proceeds to further redevelopment of the Old Colony public housing complex in South Boston. Along with federal funding, that would pay for about 200 apartments. The administration will also invest $10 million in ongoing improvements at the Orient Heights public housing complex in East Boston
The projects were picked, in part, because they could benefit from a one-time infusion of cash, but wouldn’t need much of an ongoing budget, Walsh said. They are also intentionally spread across the city. The Winthrop Square Garage may be downtown, but it’s a city asset, Walsh said, and the whole city should benefit.
“This isn’t reoccurring revenue, so we wanted to make it a one-time expenditure,” Walsh said. “We also wanted to do things that connect downtown to the community.”
The spending plan will need City Council approval. City and state lawmakers will also get a say in any changes to the shadow law, which Millennium says will be necessary for the project to move forward.