Two councilors see profit in selling off City Hall
By Kevin Joy and Michael Busack, Globe Correspondents, 1/16/2004
For sale: One Cold War-era concrete fortress, 11,000 square feet, hundreds of windows, views of harbor and Faneuil Hall. Includes 11 acres of windswept brick plaza. Prime downtown location.
Two city councilors have dreamed up an idea to salve some of the city's budget woes by selling City Hall and moving government to the Hynes Veterans Convention Center.
John M. Tobin Jr. and Paul J. Scapicchio say a sale would accomplish two things: raise millions in revenue for the cash-strapped city and create a new purpose for the Hynes, which may lose business after the new convention center in South Boston opens.
Of course there's another unspoken benefit: City councilors, and other workers, would not have to work in a building most of them consider drafty, cavernous, unmajestic, and most of all, ugly.
"It looks like a garage," said Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan. "It's ugly, it's not fuel efficient. It is a very poor use of space. Just look in anyone's office."
While it's not the first time a new use for City Hall has been rumored, and even though discussions are said to be in speculative stages, the councilors maintain they are serious.
"It's kind of premature, but it's something that Councilor Scapicchio and I have been talking about the past month," Tobin said in a telephone interview yesterday. "In order to do a study on what this would bring to the city, we need to get some talk circulating," he added.
The pending opening of the South Boston Convention Center this summer has led some Boston city councilors to foresee a bleak future for the Hynes, which according to current law must continue to operate as a convention center until 2006.
City Hall was constructed in the Brutalist Modern style, and Scapicchio said its features include high ceilings and concrete interior, wasted floor space, and an unwelcoming atmosphere for guests and staff.
"I have no love for this building," Scapicchio said. He thinks few people would have sentimental attachments to the structure, saying the place "isn't a hallowed piece of ground like the Boston Common, where horses and cows grazed 300 years ago."
Hennigan said before the council thinks about moving to the Hynes, or any other location, for that matter, the city should do a thorough analysis to determine a new location's accessibility, capacity, and cost to the city. The payoff, however, could be worth putting a price tag on City Hall, Hennigan said, pointing out that it is "a highly valuable piece of real estate."Tobin said he has received an estimate of $275 million that could be fetched for the building and 11-acre plaza, which have been the center of Boston government for nearly four decades. Scapicchio said if the city bought the Hynes for its municipal operations and sold its current building, it could yield a profit of up to $100 million. The councilors have not taken any formal action but they expect to call a hearing on the plan at the end of the month. They would seek an examination outlining any benefits of the sale to the city.
But Tobin and Scapicchio face a daunting task to get their idea underway -- convincing Mayor Thomas M. Menino that the plan is workable. While Menino has ushered ideas for revamping City Hall Plaza, he has not supported the idea of a sale. Seth Gitell, a spokesman for Menino, called the idea of selling the building "exorbitant, impractical, and unfeasible." Gitell said the proposal is too premature to be considered by the mayor, and cited the high cost of moving employees and furnishings, plus converting the Hynes into office space.
Also yesterday, Councilor Michael P. Ross, whose district includes Back Bay, where the Hynes is located, sent a letter to Scapicchio and Tobin opposing the idea. Ross said that both convention centers could serve as "twin economic engines" for the city, and that the Hynes reaps $28 million a year in state and local revenues. With the average convention visitor spending almost $350 a day, Ross said, converting the Hynes into a new City Hall could hurt neighboring hotels, restaurants, and shops. "The constant debate over the potential sale and/or conversion of the Hynes Convention Center is impacting convention business in the city," Ross said in the letter.Tobin said he recognized the concerns, but said the future of the Hynes is still unclear and that discussions should be on the table if the property becomes available. "At this point, we have a lot more questions than we do answers," Tobin said. "But when the time comes, you want to be prepared. This could score a small fortune for the city of Boston."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.