Don Ryan/Associated Press/File
The idea of a gondola whisking thousands of commuters over the traffic-clogged South Boston Waterfront once seemed fanciful to many in the city, a transportation pipe dream, of sorts.
But the dreamers behind the novel idea are dead serious about building a gondola and are slowly trying to bring it closer to reality, including gathering support from the developers of a high-profile Seaport hotel project that was directly in the path of the proposed route.
Millennium Partners and Cargo Ventures envision a 1-mile gondola system running above Summer Street to provide transportation between South Station and 12 acres they plan to develop in the city’s marine industrial park. The cable cars would run anywhere from 30 to 50 feet above ground.
Developers of the 1,054-room Omni hotel to be built across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center seem more enthusiastic about the idea since Millennium and Cargo Ventures agreed to alter the proposed gondola path slightly. Part of the route would be lowered so the cable cars wouldn’t pass directly in front of guest rooms.
“It appears to us to address our concerns,” said developer Jonathan Davis, part of the team behind the Omni project. He said the scale of redevelopment in the Seaport and the traffic congestion from it require different types of transportation solutions.
“It’s very exciting,” Davis said. “It’s incumbent upon us to explore every possible alternative to accommodate the dynamic growth that’s occurring.”
Meanwhile, the congressman who represents the area, Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch, said he met earlier in February with Mayor Martin J. Walsh and other local elected officials to promote the gondola project.
“The mayor has a solid understanding of the transportation issues,” Lynch said in an e-mail. “This gondola system would carry the equivalent of 40 buses per hour, while reducing vehicular traffic and eliminating carbon emissions. While the route of the gondola may change, I am totally committed to working with Mayor Walsh to move this process forward.”
Officials at New York-based Millennium offered a brief comment. Richard Baumert, an executive in the Boston office, said: “The comments regarding the proposed aerial tram are being addressed. Any plans should be considered preliminary and would be inappropriate for us to share at this time.”
The revised route would still be anchored at one end by South Station, with the main trunk running above Summer Street, but ending at the entrance to the marine industrial park instead of within Millennium’s development in the park. Millennium, which has developed several luxury residential towers in Boston, said it would pay the roughly $100 million construction cost.
The project still faces hurdles, as neither the city of Boston nor the Massachusetts Port Authority, a major landowner in the neighborhood, have expressed support for it.
“We’re open to a variety of different options that would improve connections throughout the South Boston Waterfront,” said Chris Osgood, Boston’s transportation chief.
Among the city officials’ concerns are the gondola system’s aesthetics as well as potential conflicts with other transportation options under consideration, such as dedicated bus lanes along Summer Street.
Winning over Massport could be crucial. In December, the authority said that the original gondola route was “unworkable from Massport’s perspective” in part because Massport owns the Omni hotel site. The revisions have addressed some but not all of its concerns, chief executive Thomas Glynn told Massport directors this month.
In the past, Millennium has proved adept at navigating the city’s political minefields, with high-profile projects such as the condo tower at the site of the old Filene’s department store in Downtown Crossing.
The company is also open to building a longer gondola line that would extend into residential areas of South Boston, near L Street. That part would need another source of funding — possibly other developers.
For now, Millennium remains focused on winning over city and state officials. Its Cargo Ventures affiliate has not yet submitted formal plans to the city or the state for the gondola or for the nearly 2 million-square-foot project it plans at the industrial park.
Another target of its courtship is the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. The developer has proposed a midpoint station on Summer Street that would serve the convention center.
Nate Little, a spokesman for the MCCA, said it’s too soon to know whether it would contribute.
“We have to figure out what the overall plan is before we start offering up contributions,” Little said. “But we’re really intrigued that people are trying to think outside the box to figure out a way to get down to South Station.”
Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said fixing the Seaport’s congestion problems is crucial to keeping its development boom going.
“I was impressed by the capacity that was touted for the gondola, and it certainly has a ‘wow factor,’” Campbell said. “But I also think that bus rapid transit has to be considered as a serious option, too. One way or another, the Seaport transportation problems have to be solved.”
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