Last Stand for Chiofaro?

East
Friday, May 14, 2010
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Last Monday, we published a story on Boston finalizing its plans for the future development of the Greenway. In it, we made small mention of developer Don Chiofaro and his Boston Arch project. This was for a few reasons. First, we wanted to focus on the Greenway study as a whole, and its dozens of development sites, and not just one of them. Second, Chiofaro, as the video above shows, is a story unto himself. Or many stories. Most, in fact, as he has turned the study into a referendum on his project and not one about the future of Boston’s newest, if still slightly bedraggled park. That said, allow us to make up for our previous paucity with a lengthy look at where Chiofaro’s project stands, or, uh, doesn’t.

As we mentioned, this is pretty much become the focus of the Greenway study, what happens on this one tiny lot, though what happens there is very important. As it was explained to us by Tim Love, one of the study’s creators, this is the marquee spot on the Greenway—a prime location next to the water, a delicate one that could easily block out the sun, a garage no one wants, but two very tall towers no one is necessarily in love with, either. On Sunday, the Globe gave a very thorough accounting of the problems facing his project, why he’s been duped, why this is personal. Chiofaro questions the study as a hit job, and some people seem to believe him. This creates a bad situation for everyone because it has actually managed to call the study’s validity into question, something that we heard time in again in reporting our story was not the case. By making this personal, Chiofaro could unbalance the entire Greenway, and not simply with his own building. Which creates an ever-greater quandary for the BRA because the more it relents, the more it invalidates its hard work. Development is all about precedents.

Today, the Herald sheds some new light on what may really be the problem here, as is often the case in development and politics, the matter of a simple misunderstanding. Chiofaro’s colleauge Ted Oatis tells the tabloid, “We presented conceptual tower designs from 400 to north of 700 feet and they were very well received.” It’s a line not unlike one from a Globe editorial on May 1:

After all, Chiofaro bought the Boston Harbor Garage for $153 million in 2007, while it carried an official height restriction of 150 feet. He hoped to build a skyscraper more than four times that height, and believed he had received some encouragement from Menino’s Boston Redevelopment Authority. But the BRA is, indeed, a labyrinth, and Chiofaro’s request for a large variance got clogged up in the system — perhaps, Chiofaro suspects, because of Menino’s personal objection.

And yet Oatis is telling the Herald they’d gotten tentative approval two years earlier. This was around the time the mayor was kicking around ideas for an 80-story tower by Renzo Piano, an icon he was very much in support of (even if it did demolish a notable building by Paul Rudolph). The fact of the matter remains, times change, as do circumstances, but Chiofaro refuses to accept that.

One local observer recently told us that Chiofaro wants to give the mayor the icon he seems to desire, though that also happens to be the exact opposite goal of the highly contextual planning study that has been developed for the Greenway. Having learned the lessons of the small-by-comparison 120 Kingston, a 300-story project that caught a lot of flack on the way to being approved, the city has realized that the stakes are simply too high along the greenway to allow much in the way of tall buildings to be built where they don’t, as at least some see it, belong. It appears, then, that Don Chiofaro, like so many others during the recession, may be forced to take a hair cut—if not to his pocket book than at least to his building.

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