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Walsh really, really wants the Winthrop Square tower built

The Globe reports Walsh will seek a change in state law to make those shadow issues with the Common go away in exchange for tighter restrictions on other development downtown and in the Back Bay, which future mayors and the BPDA would never, never, never seek to nullify.

At issue is the $153 million the city would earn by selling the now unused Winthrop Square garage to Millennium Partners.

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Good. That garage is an eyesore and we need the office, retail and condo space. Along with the jobs.

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There is a problem with the bid process if the winner's bid, the highest bid, who BRA says is Millennial Partners, is contingent on a change of law and all bidders were not so advised that contingent bids could be winning bids.

That's key. In order for a bid to maximize value for City of Boston, all participants and potential participants must be afforded the same considerations and requirements.

What we know is that the high bid is contingent on a change of law and that the BRA, Marty Walsh and Millennial Partners all claim they were unaware of the shadow law before the winning bid was awarded to Millennial Partners, contingent on a change of law.

Beyond that, how will capital from the sale be used? I think it should be a subject of public debate and not decided by the mayor only.

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Millennium Partners bid the same as everyone else, which was to the defined FAA limit. All of the other proposals were at this height. As for how the money is to be spent, it is pretty well documented already with it going to various park around the city, including completing the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park.

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If the Request For Bids specified the max height was FAA limit then all of the bids were made under a false pretense. I don't know the law regulating selling public property in the Commonwealth but I'm quite certain that bids must comply with state law.

Who was at the table when the revenue from Winthrop Sq was allocated? Has the public seen the proposals for how the money would be spent?

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Boston has memory issues.

They make these promises and forget:

There is supposedly an agrrement for a permanent observation deck in the Hancock. Anybody been there lately?

No development at the end of the wharf? Oh we lost the map (until someone found it)

Only one tall development near Boylston and Mass per an agreement with the community. The 4th is now under construction.

No development blocking the view of the old north church from Tremont. Anybody seen the new Govt Center headhouse?

I could go on, but Adam's gnomes would go on strike from overloading the memory capacity.

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Shrinking availability every year.

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I tried to go there a couple of months ago. Closed for the season. Really? And now theyre charging $7 for what was supposed to be free access?

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New shadows cast by Winthrop Square on Boston Common and the Public Garden are impacts that will be with us forever, and I don't think these impacts have been properly considered in the $153 million fever gripping City Hall. As a Seaport resident engaged in "planning" for 20 years, I'm well aware that "NIMBY" is a word that too often is used as a cudgel to marginalize those who raise issues of concern. BPDA has had the Winthrop Square project for 10 years now, yet no Downtown master plan or study of shadow impacts has been forthcoming.

A public discussion about shadows was never part of the BPDA's Winthrop Square approval process. The shadow law only came to light after BPDA had completed its RFP selection, because BPDA intentionally minimized the importance of a public debate. After Millennium Partners was selected, I went to the BPDA's so-called "Public Meeting" expecting to hear from Friends of the Public Garden (FOPG), and possibly some horticulturalists and experts, but BPDA set up the meeting as a decentralized open house. Attendees were met by an army of proponents rallying for offsite benefits. There was no opportunity to hear about shadows. In his letter following the meeting, Councilor Zakim labeled the evening a "farce."

I visited the BPDA website to learn about shadow concerns that were raised by FOPG. BPDA's webpage for Winthrop Square includes is a link to Millennium Partner's video of shadow impacts on the Common and Garden. The video presents 1.5 hours of mid-September shadows screaming by in seven seconds. Seven (7) seconds. Why not make a video of a 1.5 hour shadow that lasts a minute or two, so a viewer can understand what's going on? When I slowed down the video to 3 minutes (in an off-the-shelf video editor) it was clear that the 1.5 hour shadow cast on Boston Common every mid-September was significant, and it's impacts far more perceptible when viewed in 3 minutes rather than 7 seconds.

The fact that exemptions to state law are being sought today should give pause with respect to new state legislated moratoriums regarding future building proposals. Why won't a future building proponent argue for a new exemption with a payment of $500 million?

Until there's a fairly presented study of shadow impacts on Boston Common and the Public Garden, I'm not buying into the payment plan. BPDA should have taken this issue head-on, with hard data and a fair hearing for FOPG et al., but instead elected to marginalize debate at every turn. Per Globe columnist Renee Loth, a tower of 400 feet won't cast new shadows on the Common or Garden. Count me in for 400 feet, and perhaps the land acquisition price under a new RFP will bring in $50 million.

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2 years ago:

Mr. Mayor,
After 9/11 the John Hancock Observation deck was closed due to concerns over security. Many observation decks across the US, including the Prudential, have reopened yet the John Hancock OB deck remains closed. The public observation deck was a requirement for the acquiring of permits for the building of the tower... My question to you is: When are we going to see this open again for the public? What can you do/will do about getting this reopen?

This is the first time it's been brought to my attention, and I'll look into it.

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It takes action by the city or an agency to make sure these promises are kept. Maybe there ought to be a non-city agency that can act when a property owner reneges on a promise. Think what Secretary Bill Galvin could do with that kind of authority!

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Now the BPDA or whatev, makes these deals. Then conveniently loses the paperwork (which they conveniently forget to record) when they find a more lucrative use for the property.

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My favorite are the countless project documents that never got transferred over to the new servers.

"What's that? You want supposedly publicly available records for a recent project? Ooops sorry the files must have gotten mixed up in the transfer, let me get back to you....never."

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153 million for prime spot downtown where they're going to build hundreds of million dollar apartments and high end retail?

Who decided that was the price for that land?

If we're going to break rules selectively in exchange for various gimmes, and this is going to get done regardless of law or good sense, why not extort the developer for some sweet sweet transit funding, at the very least?

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It was put out to bid to multiple developers, and Millennium Partners vastly outbid everyone else, and includes some of the sales of the condo units in the tower with the city. You also seem to forget the cost of demolishing the garage itself, which is basically a concrete bunker. Also, the garage has sat unused for years - which is a ton of lost tax revenue from the city. In fact, the upfront sales price of the land is really just the icing on the cake, the recurring property tax is going to be great - $153 million is nice but think of what was lost over the past decade + of having nothing there.

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was operating as recently as 4 years ago.
Agreed with the rest of your comment. Condos, apartments and commercial space going up hundreds of feet is certainly going to bring in more property taxes than the garage.

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The BRA and city hall in their infinite wisdom wanted the city to sell this to the BRA for an absurdly low number -like $20 million. Fortunately Shirley Kressel and others , like Kevin McCrea, jumped in and called BS. We now have the bid for $150 millilon. Depends a lot on what finally gets permitted, but assuming a resale value of $500 million for the condos, 30% for land is in the ballpark, especially with the affordable housing mandates.

For the record This sounds like it might be a reasonable or even good deal for shadow opponents and the city - and maybe we can use it as leverage for another $25 million from the developer for the Greenway. (?) I'll let those who have thought a lot more about this lead the way.

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there are no legit reasons why this parcel shouldn't finally be developed.

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Look, we pretty much all agree a building should be built there to replace the garage. But it should be one where the developer paid a fair price for the land, and where the building is no taller than surrounding buildings. This is just like Chiafaro's monstrosity where the Aquarium garage stands. These developers are already rich, and only need to make slightly more than they spend on the land and construction. So if they say they can't make enough, when they only paid 153m for the spot, without building 20 extra stories or whatever, they are lying.

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"Chiafaro's proposal for where the Aquarium garage monstrosity stands"

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No reason not to build a building there to replace the garage. It just doesn't need to be THAT tall. If you are secure in your city's prestige you don't need to get in a dick race with other cities trying to build a taller building.

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Given how close it is to the water and the fact that Chiofaro will have to basically demo the existing garage and replace it with an underground garage, it isn't exactly cheap. It might simply not be economical given these costs (which isn't going to be cheap) that one has to make it back up in height on the other end.

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But, they put it out to bid to multiple developers, and by far the highest was Millennium, make it pretty much the market price for the land. You are also forgetting that it won't be cheap to basically demo a concrete bunker that is already there. $153 million seems like a fair price (considering it also gives the City a slice of condo sales). Also, that price for the land is just the cherry on the top - the real money is going to come in from the new property tax that the city will get from it every year. More units = more money we get upfront, and more recurring tax revenue every year. I mean, even Menino wanted to go 1,000ft here. There is nothing wrong with height in the middle of Downtown/Financial District. It is pretty much the district to go tall in (along with the high spine). Simply put: the longer the condemned parking garage sits there falling apart is straight up money lost for the city.

I also figure you can link some articles about the financial feasibility of the project at the current proposed height vs 20 stories shorter. I would guess given the insanely high cost of construction here, plus the garage demo, and the concessions to the city, that its not as crazy as you make it out to be.

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Except for the fact that the rules are that no more shadows should be created on the park resulting from new construction.

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Look, I don't want the Common and Public Garden permanently in the shadow of every building to their east and south. I get that.

But if you look at the modelling, we're talking about 90 minutes in the morning on a select set of days in the year when the angle at dawn is *just* right to force the shadow all the way over to the Garden (because at that same time of year the entire Common *is* already shaded by all the existing buildings at that time of day!).

And what loss of sunlight are we talking about? A sliver of about 1/6th of the Public Garden, at least HALF of which is the lake!

Holy shit! 50 floors of office, condo, and retail can be stopped because 1/12th of the plants loses sunlight for 90 minutes per morning for 2-3 months a year??

And in order to get buy-in against that 90 minute window, Marty's going to have to promise that Copley doesn't have better development around it?? There's barely even grass in Copley Square!

Come on...this kind of "no big things" development in Boston means either sprawl or exponential housing/retail/etc. pricing because nothing gets built for fear of a change in wind or sun or whatever. Yes, the emerald necklace needs protection. We can't pave the entire city, but sometimes you have to build up.

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It's not just 60+ story buildings vs. strip malls sort of situation. You could build a 40 story building, which is still very tall and profitable, and not need any exceptions made by anybody.

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In architecture there is a term called FAR, Floor Area Ratio. It is the total usable floor area divided by the area of the building site. Areas are zoned at certain FAR numbers, say, FAR 15, and if a developer can not meet that number than the building is going to loose them money based on construction costs, since rents and leases can only go so high. So just lopping off 20 stories of a building like you suggest isn't actually feasible in the developer world.

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Then they don't need to buy the property.

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We should just let the condemned garage sit there doing nothing except costing the city money. Or maybe we should have went with a different proposal that was the same height, but the city would have gotten 50-100$ million less, right?

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is a density rule. Can you give a citation where it has anything to do with a builder's profit margin?

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I'm not hearing reasonable defenses of why that marginal change in shadows must be defended. Is there something about current shadow levels that risks killing plants or turning the park into a drug den if we increase the shadows by a minor amount in only a portion of the park early in the morning for a few months a year?

Or is this a NIMBYesque "hard line in the sand" for park loving without any rationality to it?

AND if this tower is built, all the buildings/lots between it and the park can grow without adding "new" shadows.

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that there has been a definitive study of what the length/duration of the shadows will be. I have seen different versions. I'm not sure that it is a minor amount only in the early morning.

It is a State Law--not a nimbyesque line in the sand. And sure, keep building because the newer building will only add a few feet more of shadow and on and on.

Saying this will be a one time only event if it passes, is like saying I'll just stop by for one drink.

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One of the past heads of the BRA / BPDA was quoted in the paper (Globe?) Saying the shadow laws to protect the parks were one of the best things that happened under his tenure. Nothing to do with drug dens or grass growing. Dark parks are simply not enjoyable and don't get used. Because of some of the other protections - like for Copley, this might be a good idea. However, it's the incrementalism and broken promises I fear the most. They change the rules as a matter of financial convenience around here. As they are seeking to do with this project.

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The City will receive about $100m almost right away when the sale goes through. The additional $50m is linked to condo sales.
$28 million of the funds will go towards upgrades to the Boston Common. Another $28m will go to Franklin Park, the city's largest and most historically underfunded park. About $11m will go to finish the Emerald Necklace by connecting
Franklin Park to Moakley in South Boston, and around another $35 million for public housing improvements in East and South Boston. The entire operating budget of the Parks Department in 2016 was only $19m. Those are all clear positives. $28m is a sea change for Franklin Park and its surrounding neighborhoods, who don't have the tax and donation base that some of the other green spaces in the city to serve its needs. The city spent $200k last year to repair portions of the Park's pathways- and that was a shocking increase in support compared to previous levels of investment.
The negative: There will be additional shadows on the Public Garden and Common. That's clear, but the "shadow bank" will be retired (my understanding is that some buildings near the common still have an as of right to build higher if they chose, but new construction would not be allowed). There is also a concern about precedent, but it is important to understand that this is a unique property in that it is owned by the City. There are few, if any, similar parcels.

I'm not unbiased here. I live in Roxbury, serve on the Board of the Franklin Park Coalition, and have discussed this topic with both the Mayor and the Parks Commissioner. But all in all, this project is a net positive for the City and its residents in my mind.

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Greed is destroying the city. The last thing Boston needs is another high rise luxury gated community which would be a gift to foreign investors and a slap in the face to Bostonians. Hands off our Common and Public Garden, Developers!
Everything about this project stinks. I say tear down the garage and extend Winthrop Park. Keep Boston a liveable city. I know that's not gonna happen but anything over 6 stories on that lot is bad for Boston.
Until Millenium can give a good reason why they should not be held responsible for their tilting tower in San Francisco, they shouldn't be allowed to build anywhere. They are a shady organization, pun intended!

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With single building reviews, the BPDA (the agency formerly known as BRA) never bothered to measure the aggregate impact of the high rise construction on Boylston Street in the Fenway. The new multiple high rise buidlings have now created a major wind tunnel and shortage of parking from the unmeasured total increase in population.

If Mayor Walsh is successful in having state law changed, not only will the Winthrop Square tower be built, but another ouversized tower at 2 Charlesgate West, across from the historic Victory Gardens, will be built by ‎Trans National Properties.

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