Building a waterfront park in Boston can be tricky
No one said building a waterfront park in Boston would be easy.
Barbara Erickson is finding out how tough it can be. The Trustees of Reservations chief executive plans to update members at an annual meeting Thursday on the nonprofit’s ambitious goal to build a string of signature parks along one of the most expensive urban waterfronts in the country. Progress, it’s fair to say, has not been speedy.
Her group identified several key sites in East Boston and South Boston, with a new one in the North End recently emerging as an intriguing possibility. Each park would cost between $20 million and $50 million, and would require separate financing efforts. She would prefer that they be self-sustaining. On-site development is one idea, or a tax surcharge on nearby properties.
The furthest along: “Piers Park 3” on the East Boston side of the harbor. Erickson’s group has been talking with Massport about the 3.6-acre space, which would complement Piers Park 1 (already a fixture) and 2 (still being designed). The two sides are close to an agreement, perhaps within the next few weeks, that would allow Trustees engineers to inspect the pier where the park would go. Structural problems, if any are found, could complicate the Trustees’ plans.
Then there’s Dry Dock #4. Erickson and her team remain keenly interested in putting a park on the old fenced-off pier behind the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion — despite the Walsh administration’s effort to persuade them to focus on Fort Point Channel instead. The 6-acre dry dock, with its stellar harbor views, could be home to that dream park. But Erickson may need to persuade City Hall first. (City officials recently said they plan to use the pier as a staging area for the Long Island Bridge project.)
Fort Point Channel, meanwhile, has been a bit of a puzzle. City officials say they prefer the channel because a park there could serve as a flooding buffer, and they’re seeking $10 million from the feds to help plan it. That sounds great, but Erickson says the lack of available land along the channel had posed a big challenge to the Trustees. She’s more hopeful now: Procter & Gamble’s recent decision to put a chunk of its Gillette campus up for sale may be a game-changer.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s focus on using parks to boost climate resiliency could pay off in other ways. For example, city officials are seeking a consultant to study options for Sargent’s Wharf, on the North End’s edge. It’s primarily used as a parking lot now. The Trustees will watch that process closely.
The Trustees of Reservations has been more closely identified with parks in the suburbs, such as the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln that Erickson hopes to add to the Trustees’ holdings next year.
But Erickson plans to remind members on Thursday that the Trustees’ roots are here, in the city of Boston, growing from an initial goal of carving out open space as the city became industrialized more than a century ago. Boston is in the midst of a new kind of boom now, but Erickson says the importance of connecting the public with the waterfront hasn’t changed.