Remember when we Red Sox fans were lucky enough to get to watch Manny Ramirez in his prime as he did whatever he wanted to do with a baseball bat in Fenway Park? Well, part of what came with that was also the weird things he used to do, and those got chalked up to “Manny being Manny” and we put up with it because he was such an amazing hitter. Right now, we need to let the Mayor be the Mayor. We need him to be a rough and tumble politician who isn’t going to back down because he’s fighting for what’s best for the city. Is the scenario proposed below the best way to get things done? Not by a long shot. And this isn’t the kind of politics we want to encourage, but the situation in Downtown Crossing needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now.
If you live or work in Boston and spend any time in Downtown Crossing, you are familiar with the hole at the corner of Washington Street and Franklin Street. The site had been home to Filene’s, but a few years ago, the New York-based real estate investment group Vornado Realty Trust purchased the site and began demolition. The plan for the site was a 39-story mixed-use development of retail, condos, and a hotel. If built, the project would have injected some much needed vitality and foot traffic into Downtown Crossing.
So, what happened? To put things simply, the Great Recession happened.
Lending dried up for a lot of ambitious projects and things were put on hold. In the case of the former Filene’s site, this was followed by a lot of back and forth between Mayor Menino and Vornado about getting things going again. The Mayor got understandably upset when he found out about comments that one of Vornado’s higher-ups had made that essentially encouraged developers of stalled projects to keep stalling in hopes of getting a handout from the city.
This has been followed by more back and forth. Vornado claims to be trying to sell the site, but has rejected recent offers because they are well below what the company has already invested in the site.
The end result for all of us is we get a massive hole in a part of the city that desperately needs investment. It does not speak well for our city that development of this site has been stalled for so long.
Fast forward to today, and Vornado is in the news again, but not regarding the Filene’s site. Vornado has been acquiring shares in Suffolk Downs, the racetrack in East Boston that is in the running to become one of the casinos allowed in the state under the legislation passed recently. Obviously the Mayor is not all too excited that Vornado is getting involved in a project that he generally supports.
But I think there is an opportunity her to make the most of Mayor Menino’s talents. The Mayor holds a grudge like no other. He can’t be pleased that the hole in Downtown Crossing is quickly becoming his legacy. What we need here is the Mayor Menino who isn’t going to take crap form anyone, who isn’t going to get jerked around, and who is going to make Vornado get off their ass.
Why doesn’t he start getting publicly upset about this? This is a time when his character could be put to use to the benefit of the city. If Vornado and their partners at Suffolk Downs are granted the casino license by the state, the Mayor should go to bat for Boston’s residents and use his bully pulpit to prevent any development of the casino until the Filene’s site is either sold to another developer or real progress is made on the construction of the proposed development.
I say, let the Mayor be the Mayor, and let’s see some real movement on fixing Downtown Crossing.
– Nick Downing, Future Boston Program Manager