Mayor Martin J. Walsh is moving forward with a $60 million plan to overhaul City Hall Plaza, but, city officials said, it will be at the expense of one of the headline events on the brick expanse — the Boston Winter festival.
The planned changes involve a complete redesign of the plaza, including plans for a seasonal fountain and tree-covered gathering spots — as well as the renovation of the North Side entrance of City Hall, which has been closed to the public for 17 years. The improvements also include infrastructure upgrades that could allow for event organizers to better tap into water, electricity, and data lines, allowing for the possibility of expanded activities.
“We are recommitting to our vision and moving forward with our plans to make City Hall the civic heart of our city,” Walsh said in a statement. “These improvements are not only necessary for the long-term viability of City Hall and the plaza, but are an important part of our plan to make these spaces a destination for years to come.”
But the renovation plans, city officials said in a statement, will also cancel Boston Winter, a holiday market and an ice skating rink that had been a centerpiece of Walsh’s efforts to enliven City Hall Plaza as a new gathering space. The festival, while popular, had become a logistical and business nightmare for the city.
Boston Garden Development Corp. — a subsidiary of Delaware North, which owns and operates TD Garden — holds a three-year contract with the city to plan and operate events on City Hall Plaza. But Boston Garden had a public falling out with a subcontractor, Millennial Entertainment, which ran vending booths and concessions, one of the main attractions of the seasonal festival.
The festival, open from the day after Thanksgiving to the end of the calendar year, attracted more than 300,000 people this winter, far exceeding the previous year’s crowds, according to Boston Garden officials. (In its lawsuit, Millennial disputed those figures.)
Organizers said they had lost $1.2 million in operating expenses in the first year of the contract, though they attributed those losses to the costs of first-time setup. The city received a $175,000 fee for hosting the event.
Boston Garden was also forced to scale back original concepts for other festivities on the plaza, including a Ferris wheel, due to limitations with the plaza’s infrastructure. The plaza is built above an abandoned subway tunnel, putting constraints on its weight capacity. It also has restricted access to water and electricity lines.
City officials said the redesign of the red brick plaza is prompted in part by the infrastructure limitations that Boston Garden Development had to deal with during event planning.
The new design plans call for a more accessible plaza as well, and possibly a visitors center and gathering spots for groups.
Events on the plaza will still take place in the early phases of the redesign. The city said in a statement that it would work with event planners to continue those events until actual construction begins next year.
Testing of the plaza’s infrastructure will begin in the fall and last through the winter and mostly be confined to the plaza’s north side.
But it will affect large scale events planned for that area, including, the city confirmed, Boston Winter, “as the city commences extensive destructive testing and prepares for construction in 2019.”
Boston Garden will continue to host a summer attraction, The Patios, a beer garden and recreational pavilion, on the Congress Street side of the plaza through the fall.
Amy Latimer, president of Boston Garden Development Corp., said in a statement, “We are proud of our ongoing efforts and accomplishments in reimagining City Hall Plaza and making it a vibrant destination in collaboration with the city.”
She added, “We will miss the opportunity to bring Boston Winter back for a third time, but are excited to continue The Patios.”
The city said in a statement that, “The successful activation of Boston Seasons on City Hall Plaza, including Boston Winter and The Patios, has shown the potential for activating the space, while also underscoring the need for infrastructure improvements and system upgrades to successfully sustain events of all sizes.”
After putting out a request for a bid in December, the city has named the construction firm Skanska as the project manager, and is in final contract negotiations with Sasaki, an architecture firm, for the final design and construction of the project.
Previous work at City Hall, part of an ongoing Rethink City Hall campaign to enliven the building, has included renovations to the third-floor lobby, City Hall’s main entrance. The city has also installed new lighting systems throughout the building, inside and outside. The City Council Chambers were also renovated.