No rules, no process, no strategy: Part 3, “Utilize outside political channels or threaten to leave”
By: David A. Smith
As established in the two preceding parts, inspired by a recent article in the Boston Globe (July 16, 2015) covering a McKinsey report commissioned by the Walsh Administration on the state of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the authority had no rules except one (please the mayor), no processes but one (respond to whatever interested the mayor), and evidently no priorities but one: downtown development.
How many square feet in that cornice easement?
Principal sources used or referenced in this post
Boston Globe (June 29, 2008; cobalt blue font)
Major AHI posts on the Boston Redevelopment Authority
A quintessential mayor
Opening this post, I said the BRA had no rules, no process, and no strategy. That’s technically not quite right: the BRA had:
No rules … except Make the mayor happy.
No process … except Ask the mayor want he wants
No strategy … except Whatever the mayor likes this week
What’s wrong with that?
Despite Mayor Menino’s mantra of serving “the people of the neighborhoods of the City of Boston,” the BRA during his tenure was far more interested in downtown commercial development than in housing or jobs in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain. As slide 48 of the report (displayed above) states:
“Planning projects go last on each meeting agenda, sending the signal that planning is not as important as current development projects.”
Mayor Walsh appears to be seeking to change that:
In addition to the first comprehensive citywide plan in 50 years, the Walsh administration has initiated smaller community planning efforts for individual neighborhoods, such as Dorchester Avenue in South Boston and Washington Street in Jamaica Plain.
The Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston
Dorchester Avenue, looking north, 1925
Dorchester Avenue was built as a turnpike, then overtaken twice, first by the railroad/ subway, and then by the Central Artery/ Southeast Expressway, which rerouted all the traffic away and killed the original economic purpose of Dot Ave (as many people call it). Some serious planning to revitalize the area, preferably with more housing and more affordable housing, would make a great deal of sense.
Spaces looking for a character: Dorchester Avenue today
To help the effort, the BRA plans to hire six new planners and is starting a nationwide search for Shen’s replacement.
Golden said he plans to fund those new jobs by maximizing rents on BRA properties.
How about trimming staff first? Fewer staff = better decisions.
Somehow, this is owned by the BRA
Renovations and better management of the China Trade Building in Downtown Crossing and the Boston Marine Industrial Park could generate an extra $6 million to $8 million a year for the BRA, McKinsey estimates.
Forget the cash flow management – BMIP is on the cusp of being worth a fortune, and the BRA has only the flimsiest idea what to do with it:
A huge flat triangle … but smack on the waterfront
The Boston Marine Industrial Park (BMIP), owned by the city’s Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC), is a 191-acre site on the South Boston Waterfront. Formerly an Army/Navy base, the site was nearly empty and abandoned until the property was granted to the EDIC between 1977 and 1983.
Back almost four decades ago, when the harbor was polluted and downtown Boston was a residential ghost town, that third-of-a-square-mile triangle was an isolated eyesore, very likely contaminated environmentally, and of negative economic value. The BRA inherited it via its merger with Boston EDIC – EDIC doubtless a political orphan being foisted on the BRA as a price of doing business – and through patience, the urban revival, and all the development occurring outward from the Fort Point Channel in what has cleverly been named Boston’s Innovation District, the site is now at the edge of development appeal.
BMIP is basically under the words ‘Harpoon Brewery’
BMIP was a blighted district (hence the formation of Boston’s EDIC) but the money tide is coming in
Give it another decade and it’ll be worth a mint:
Since then the BMIP has been identified as a prime location for consolidating, preserving, and growing Boston’s ocean trade, maritime industries and industrial uses. It is also intended to create and protect decent wage jobs for a variety of skill levels. Based on the BMIP Master Plan, at this time 74% of the BMIP is used/reserve for maritime industrial purposes, 22% is used for industrial, and 4% is commercial. A wide variety of tenants occupy the area including beer brewers, research facilities, and seafood processing and wholesaling facilities.
The BRA director should be spending a huge amount of strategic planning resources developing a vision/ use for the site, because as the Innovation District and Seaport District expand, BMIP will be the next to pop. (I’m surprised nobody’s suggested it as an Olympic venue.) Clearly, it is not:
Indeed, the audit found that the BRA has no comprehensive list of its own properties, and recommended that the agency create a new position, director of real estate, to manage its assets. Golden said he plans to hire for the job soon.
Director Golden is probably waiting for his boss to decide an overall strategy.
Then there are deeper issues of morale among the BRA’s 220 employees, which McKinsey repeatedly described as “poor.”
Judging by the comments McKinsey excerpted, ‘poor’ is a kind word:
About 70 percent of BRA employees said the agency lacks a clear vision, and they described the organization’s culture as “hierarchical, siloed, and not transparent,” according to the McKinsey audit.
“Utilize outside political channels or threaten to leave.”
“We’ve been at this 18 months,” said director Golden. “We’ll be at it many more.”
Very discouraging but probably true.
Long way to go