‘Urban Mechanic’ Menino Repairs Skyline

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Posted September 3, 2013 by Christopher Buckley Kent in Urban Living
Millennium Place

With his name etched and bronzed onto so many landmarks, Mayor Menino has cemented his reputation as a savior of the downtown Boston landscape. Despite his rising to the top of Hub politics from the outer neighborhoods—and enjoying continuous support from voters in his home turf of Hyde Park and Roslindale—our leader of two decades will eventually be best remembered for the mark he left from the West End to the waterfront, from Beacon Hill to the Back Bay. That’s just the way it’s always been. Even the memory of Mayor James Michael Curley, a son of Roxbury, shines brightest through his portly bronze statue in the shadow of the current City Hall.

More than any other mayor before him, Menino has defined the skyline, and—after years of failed attempts to catalyze development through legislative action—established a powerful Business Improvement District to ensure more momentum. Long before him, Mayor Kevin White set plans in motion, brightening Faneuil Hall and transforming Downtown Crossing into a shopping destination. White’s replacement, Ray Flynn, commanded less sway, leaving a range of urban development opportunities for the next municipal maven to implement. Given the chance to change the city’s profile, Mayor Menino reached far higher than his early critics imagined.

The Skyscrapers, Present and Future

There was nothing easy about redeveloping 45 Province Street. The challenge included temporarily closing a popular parking garage and shuttering the legendary Littlest Bar. But the Menino machine, guided by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, nurtured the $120 million mixed-use monument that was finally delivered in 2009 and brought 31 stories of luxury condos and retail space into the area. Neighborhood integrity was upheld; sandwiches are still available at Sam LaGrassa’s right across the street, while Marliave still serves elegant meals next door. The new building also has a timeless look, with subtle influences from old and new Boston alike.

The mayor also helped to nurture the current project by developer Millennium Partners, a 15-story luxury residential building at Avery and Washington dubbed Millennium Place. The building has been well received, as it is the best selling building of it’s kind in the city.

Some of his legacy has yet to be determined, however. More than any other property, Mayor Menino will be judged by what becomes of the former Filene’s parcel. It’s a mess at the moment, with work only just under way at the critical site. The longer projection, however, is for an urban oasis—Millennium Partner’s $615 million Millennium Tower and Burnham Building—to fill the current crater. When that project is finished—complete with a 625-foot-high residential tower, more than 200,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, a health club and several other sweet accoutrements of urban leisure—there will be cause for celebration.

Beyond Buildings

Of course, Hizzoner hasn’t merely courted skyscrapers. Downtown utopias thrive on arts and excitement, and Menino—despite holding office into senior citizenship—has consciously brought both to the area. And though family fun has been integral in attracting visitors from near and far, the mayor hasn’t merely courted programs like Shakespeare on the Common and the Big Apple Circus, the latter of which shares Government Center with the City Hall crowd each year. Menino has also greenlit concerts and events that teenagers dig, as well as Boston Calling, a weekend-long indie rock fiesta with a beer garden that’s already planned an encore bash.

Mayor Menino

Menino loved walking the streets and meeting Boston’s residents. Photo by Dan Nicholas

In addition to these endeavors, the mayor was a strong backer of the Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront and the Calderwood Pavilion in the South End. But the mayor believes his greatest achievement in support of the arts is the revitalization of Boston’s historic theaters downtown on Washington Street, including the Paramount, the Opera House and the Modern Theatre.

Even with so much physical and cultural development—including the completion of ArtsEmerson and nearly $3 million in planned streetscape improvements to more residences on the way—after two decades, his most popular move in Downtown Crossing might turn out to be his support of pushcart vendors. While other entities have tried to force the removal of the city’s longtime mobile merchants, Mayor Menino has defended them, many of whom held the area down when it was desolate. As the history books will show, his position wasn’t the least bit surprising; if anybody understands how Boston’s working class and outer boroughs keep the Hub’s engine running through hard times, it’s the Urban Mechanic himself.

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