The meeting was at 6 p.m. at the Piers Park sailing center. It was freezing but quite a lot of people showed up and many stayed until the very end. Basically the meeting was framed as Massport's update on the Portside at Pier 1 development. Basically, the costs of strengthening the pier in order to build 4-5 story buildings have turned out to be much higher than expected. One of the proposals Roseland Property Company has suggested is to develop the condos on the Piers Park II land and wrap the park around and along the pier. Anyway, the claim is that, given the increased construction costs and the softening condo market, they expect a loss of anywhere between 11-15% (the numbers kept changing throughout the meeting).
In short, most people felt that Roseland should have known about the costs of strengthening the pier before going through this process. That they didn't know (or say they didn't know) amounts to what most people characterized as either mismanagement or malfeasance. It was interesting to learn that the expected return on investment originally was 3-4%, which is significantly lower than the 15-20% that is typical of these kinds of developers. The Massport guy (I never caught his name) made it clear that Roseland is still costing out its options. They have not received any notice of proposed project change or anything like that. Roseland has until November to do something or else they have lost their bid, and the $20 million that they've put into the project. Roseland is still interested in the apartment development part of the proposal. It's the condo development on the pier that is the problem. There was a comment that I didn't quite catch entirely and needs to be confirmed, but I thought I heard them say that if Roseland pares back the development to just the apartments, their ROI will be in the range of 12-16%. As it happened, a plane flew over right as this comment was being made, so I could have easily misheard what was said.
I would like to give credit to Massport for keeping residents up to date on the status of the project, although it was made clear that the meeting was requested by the residents, so it's not like they took the initiative here. I really wish they had let more people know about this meeting. I learned about it third-hand and only because someone who learned about it second-hand knows that I do research on these kinds of public participation processes (and I like to know what's going on in my own neighborhood). It wasn't even listed on Frank Conte's website [eastboston.com]. It appears that you had to be on the Piers PAC list to get the notice. East Boston can be very balkanized and that really plays into the hands of developers.
Unfortunately, Roseland's conspicuous absence made Massport appear to be more than a messenger but also a proponent of Roseland's takeover of Piers Park II. It also made people even more angry. It really kind of felt like MassPort feeling out the community response rather than an objective presentation of what's going on. I also feel like MassPort is approaching this site from a particularly narrow framework. At one point the MassPort guy said that this development "will only work as condos." I put out the suggestion that maybe they think a little more broadly about developing this site, like doing eco-lofts (they are building them in , I can't imagine why it couldn't be done here). But ideas like these just don't fit their narrow mindset of what can be successfully developed on this site.
Suffice to say, no one was happy. The residents in attendance were frustrated. Sal got up and suggested that MassPort go back to the drawing board and then left shortly after. A lot of complaining, a couple of histrionics, and a lot of questions that simply could not be answered.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Report from East Pier meeting
Local activist Neenah Estrella-Luna was at a meeting hosted by Massport this evening to update residents on the Portside at Pier 1/ East Pier project. She was kind enough to summarize the event for all of us: