Suffolk University is considering moving from some buildings it owns on Beacon Hill to a few spots in Downtown Crossing, including the old Filene’s site and the building that until recently was a Borders at the corner of Washington Street and School Street. Not surprisingly, Beacon Hill residents expressed their support for the plan as it would free up buildings on the Hill for residential development.
About a month ago, I wrote about the ongoing problem that is the former Filene’s in Downtown Crossing, which for a number of years has been a massive hole. This is a prime location in the middle of downtown Boston, and yet it remains empty with no immediate plans to fix it.
So I should be excited at the news of something moving in, right?
Normally, the answer would be a resounding, “Yes.” If either the current developer or a new developer were announcing plans for a mixed-use development similar to what had originally been proposed, I’d be ecstatic, and would be in Downtown Crossing in an instant to offer my labor for free to get something built.
But this just isn’t something I can get behind. Boston already has far too much land owned by tax-exempt institutions (50% as of 2008) and every time an institution expands, it takes more land off the books and less the city is collecting less money needed for services like public safety and education, among others.
The restoration of the old theatres along Washington Street done by Emerson College and Suffolk University has been great, but we can’t turn over ever spot of prime real estate to a university just to get something built. We need a balanced approach, and one that takes long-term development into account.
There is room for everyone in Boston – students and residents, businesses and universities – but the City shouldn’t take the easy way out with a quick fix like this in place of development geared more towards what the city needs for future growth.
I want to see the Filene’s site developed as much as the next person, but such a prime location needs to be made the most of with a development that will help bring people, businesses, and property tax revenue to the City.
– Nick Downing, Future Boston Program Manager