I’ve spent the week catching up with all things Boston waterfront.
There have been plenty of fireworks this summer, including the fight being waged by the Conservation Law Foundation and some residents of Harbor Towers over developer Don Chiofaro’s plan to build a 600-foot tower on the site of the Harbor Garage.
But not everything on the downtown waterfront is fraught with friction. Here’s a roundup of what’s progressing along:
Martin’s Park at the Smith Family Waterfront is on track to open soon
The site, next to the Boston Children’s Museum, has been a massive construction zone for close to a year. But don’t be fooled. In a month or so, Martin’s Park — named after 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings — will start to look like the kind of sanctuary of open space the South Boston Waterfront desperately needs.
The $15.1 million, one-acre esplanade will feature trees and flowering shrubs, as well as a playground where kids can go down slides, explore a marooned ship, and climb rocks, all while enjoying some of the best views of Boston and overlooking Fort Point Channel. Much of the underground work, such as installing utilities, is wrapping up. Soon, you’ll start to see above-ground installations like the playground equipment.
Last I left it the Richard family, which has been leading the private fund-raising for the city park, was about $3 million short of their goal. Then the price tag went up by $2 million, due to higher-than-expected construction costs and efforts to protect the park from rising sea levels.
Money has poured in from corporate donors, most recently from adidas, Coca-Cola, Eastern Bank, and Vertex.
Seaport District developers, including Skanska, Jon Cronin, and WS Development, have also written big checks as part of community mitigation obligations tied to other projects. The City of Boston is kicking in $500,000 from Community Preservation Act funds.
The good news: Martin’s Park is within striking distance of being fully funded — just $300,000 more to go.
“While fund-raising continues to go well and there are so many worthwhile projects, we are still actively filling a funding gap,” Bill Richard, Martin’s father, told me. “Should there be any more neighbors or others who want to be part of this transformative project in the city of Boston, contact us.”
One way is to give is through the Martin Richard Foundation, which supports the park. The foundation is gearing up for its inaugural MR8K, a five-mile run on Labor Day in partnership with the Boston Bruins that will end at center ice at TD Garden. For more information, go to www.teammr8.org.
As everyone knows, traffic threatens to choke growth in the Seaport District. In May, I detailed five fixes for the neighborhood, but I left out a solution on the water. As my colleague Jon Chesto has been reporting, two groups have been leading the charge on expanding water transportation: the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Boston Harbor Now.
The authority, after helping Seaport employers consolidate their private bus shuttle system, is now focused on launching a one-year pilot program that will take commuters by boat from North Station (Lovejoy Wharf) to the Seaport (Fan Pier). A start date depends on the redevelopment of a public dock in front of Lovejoy Wharf; developer Related Beal is beginning that work and could finish in November or December.
The authority is in the process of figuring out the size of the boats needed for such a route. Several thousand commuters make the trek daily from North Station to the Seaport; the trip by water would take about 14 minutes.
One big question: How accessible will the service be to the public? The pilot program will use a dock that has been built with both public and private funds and won’t be entirely private like the Seaport shuttle buses.
Employees of the companies that are funding the commuter boat will get priority, and after that other riders can get on. The authority is determining fares for the public, which would be collected by smartphone.
Meanwhile, Boston Harbor Now, a waterfront advocacy group, has settled on developing business plans for two other services:
■ A ferry from Squantum Point in Quincy to Long Wharf on the downtown waterfront that could include an off-peak stop at Columbia Point in Dorchester, by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
■ An inner harbor connector with stops at Fan Pier, Lewis Mall in East Boston, Pier 4 in Charlestown, and Long Wharf downtown.
“We’re trying to design something that is part of the transit network,” said Alice Brown, the director of water transportation for Boston Harbor Now.
The Barr Foundation steps up its waterfront commitments
Two years ago, I wrote about how the powerful nonprofit started by Continental Cablevision cofounder Amos Hostetter Jr. and his wife, Barbara, wanted to become the voice of reason and vision on Boston’s waterfront. Barr president and trustee Jim Canales threw down the gauntlet, warning in a blog post that the historic waterfront “is in jeopardy.”
Today, Barr’s fingerprints are all over the waterfront. It has given $11.4 million to 13 groups for planning and organizing, including Boston Harbor Now, Trustees of Reservations, the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and the Conservation Law Foundation.
A recent round of about $500,000 went to six community nonprofits in an effort to empower residents to get engaged on waterfront issues. Among the recipients: the Fort Point Neighborhood Association/Harborfront Neighborhood Alliance, Friends of the East Boston Greenway, Harborkeepers, and GreenRoots.
“We don’t want to presume to have all the answers about what the waterfront could or should be,” explained Trevor Pollack, Barr’s program officer and manager of special projects. “If this is Boston’s waterfront, what do Bostonians really want?”
Expanding Barr’s grant-making beyond policy makers isn’t the only evolution in strategy.
“The conscientiousness about the need for resiliency and protection is much more elevated today than it was several years ago,” Canales said, citing the January and March storms that flooded parts of the downtown waterfront.
That means the foundation wants to see open-space projects that also have the purpose of protecting the coastline from rising sea levels.
“Let’s think about how we can construct solutions that address resiliency but also bring other benefits to the adjacent communities and broader city,” Canales said.