I would like to correct an incorrect fact in the Banner editorial entitled “Change is coming” in the April 16, 2009, issue. The Banner erroneously stated that Mayor Thomas M. Menino has never appointed a black man to a major role in his administration.
In August 2004, Mayor Menino appointed me as the director of the city’s Public Facilities Department. I subsequently changed the name to the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND). As one of the largest city departments, DND employed some 212 employees, had a total budget of over $300 million, was responsible for all capital construction (fire stations, schools, libraries, Franklin Field Golf Clubhouse, etc), all affordable housing programs, all land disposition programs and all U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development block grant funds.
During my tenure, DND was responsible for jumpstarting the redevelopment of Blue Hill Avenue between Dudley Street and Grove Hall. Also during my tenure, we started the first-in-the-nation citywide Main Street Program. We also were charged with starting up the Empowerment Zone. I resigned from this position in December 1998.
Charles T. Grigsby
I attended a press conference on April 17 at 3 p.m. called by Mayor Menino. He called this conference to announce that the development team lead by the Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists, Ruggles Place, would remain the developers of Parcel 3. They have been granted an 18-month extension, and the mayor promised the support of the city and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).
This ONLY came about because all of Roxbury stood firm in our support for the Ruggles Place development team and their vision for Parcel 3. We made it clear we would not accept a Wal-Mart or a soccer stadium under any conditions.
There are many people to thank for this victory. The Roxbury Neighborhood Council, the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, the Project Review Committee for Parcel 3, the Board of Directors of the Museum and hundreds of community residents that came out to Oversight Committee meetings and made phone calls to City Hall.
If we remain unified in this manner, there is nothing Roxbury could not accomplish. Great job, folks. We all have reason to be proud.
Roxbury Neighborhood Council
I grew up in Roxbury at 25 Whittier Street. The vacant property to which many are now referring was once a series of streets with houses, factories and probably one of the most beautiful parks in the world on the grounds of the Whittier Street Health Unit.
The heart of the park was a wading pool, at the center of which was a magnificent fountain with a shower head that turned hot summer days into a wonderful rainbow experience.
My sister told me that when the property fell into disarray, the fountain was sold. It would be outstanding if the city and/or the health unit would return the fountain to its original location as part of the new Parcel 3 development.
If that’s not possible, I would at least like to know if it’s possible to visit the fountain. Just getting old, I guess.
The community outrage regarding the re-designation of Parcel 3, or P3, away from the current development team was indeed warranted. At times like this, history serves up an important lesson. The parcel of land we all know as P3 was part of a plan to build a highway that nobody wanted. In the end, it was defeated.
Fast forward to today, we find widespread community support for the developers to continue at P3, despite a down economy and scarcity of funding — a lack of funding that impacts many development projects across the city, including similar Columbus Avenue parcels at Jackson Square, which were recently re-designated in favor of the current Jackson Square Partners development team.
The community has the right to petition for support or dissent. In our last letter of support for the Jackson Square Partners re-designation, our Community Advisory Committee wrote the following to the BRA:
“… we remain emphatically committed to working with and supporting the developers on the larger project to produce something that we all can be proud of. Moreover, we note that the response we are asking for Site II may be interpreted as a tall order. But given the many broken promises of Urban Renewal, the promise of a “New Boston” and history of sporadic and indulgence-only investment in this neighborhood, we owe it to folks, our neighbors, to deliver a project that provides our community with the highest and best use of its resources …”
Clearly, these projects have issues. Some are financial, others are not. But we also have an obligation to continue with the developers chosen by the community to make right and whole parts of a neighborhood that never should have been claimed for a highway.
I wanted to take a moment to write you about the city’s handling of the Elma Lewis memorial project and the development of Parcel 3, the “Gateway to Roxbury.”
Like many of you, I am disappointed and angered by the events of the last few months. A process that started many years ago as a good faith effort between the City, the community and the Boston Redevelopment Association (BRA) to plan for Roxbury’s future has left the community feeling burned and has left a vision unfulfilled.
We recently witnessed how the powers of an organized community and an impassioned free press can come together to make things happen. When Mayor Menino put pressure on the BRA to un-designate Elma Lewis Partners LLC as the developer of the vacant Parcel 3 lot in Roxbury, the community sprang into action. Soon after, we heard that the mayor was considering reversing his position; eventually, the Elma Lewis group received an 18-month extension.
I am proud to have joined so many others at the April 3 meeting to voice disappointment in the city’s handling of the situation. I am also proud of the countless hours of hard work done by the volunteers on the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee. And the April 16 Bay State Banner editorial held the administration’s feet to the fire on the issue.
Still, this is not the first time that we have been disappointed by the community development process in this community and in neighborhoods across the city. Boston’s development process is broken. Our politics have gotten in the way of policy. Communities feel disrespected.
Boston needs a real, community-driven development process and a planning agency that works for the community, not developers. I know we can get there. We have the people and the skills to do it, but we need fresh leadership to make it a reality. With my background in community organizing and affordable housing development, I feel that I can lead our city in this new direction.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority has proven that it is accountable to the mayor, but not to the community. We need a new development framework to ensure that this never happens again.
The power of the black vote in Boston, and the willingness of local politicians to betray that vote, can both be seen in four short sentences dated April 16.
The closing lines in the Bay State Banner’s editorial said, “After the Elma Lewis decision, no self-respecting African American can vote for Menino if he chooses to run again. It is time for Menino to step down so that he will be remembered for his many achievements.” Later that same day, BRA Director John Palmieri said that he and the mayor had suddenly changed their minds, and would “reconsider” the possibility of re-awarding Parcel 3 to Elma Lewis Partners.
But, Palmieri was careful to add, “I don’t know where we end up.”
Menino’s sudden, temporary friendliness is occurring now only because he needs a strong black vote to get re-elected. But the writing on the wall is clear: Menino and Palmieri still insist that how this all will end — after the election — remains unknown. They need to keep the Parcel 3 controversy quiet only until the election; after that, regardless of who gets elected, Menino and Palmieri will have plenty of time left to do whatever they want.
Elma Lewis Partners has only a very short time to get an iron-clad legal agreement which guarantees that: (1) ELP is granted every favor given to other developers, and that (2) ELP is held to no higher standard than any other developer. Not getting that signed legal agreement right now ensures that ELP will lose Parcel 3 — but only after the election, when it’s too late.