Toward Garage Plan
May 10, 1993
By Robert O'Malley
Before it was cleared for urban renewal, the Chinatown land known as Parcel C was part of a lively Syrian and Chinese neighborhood on Oak Street. Squeezed between the remnants of aged Chinatown residential buildings and the emerging skeletons of the New England Medical Center's new $110 million hospital facility, the 24,000-square-foot site has since become a parking lot.
But if the Chinatown/South Cove Neighborhood Council gives the go-ahead this week, it could become the site of a 455-car medical center parking garage.
In return for receiving community approval to build a garage, the hospital would either build a 10,000-square-foot community center on the same site or donate $1.8 million toward a center. The medical center proposal also includes $150,000 to fund another possible Chinatown project as well as 55 parking spaces in the garage for Chinatown housing planned for a nearby site.
Although a significant number of people who attended a Chinatown community meeting last week opposed the plan - with some saying that having a garage in a residential area was not worth the money being offered - it remains up to the neighborhood council to make a final recommendation on the proposal at its meeting tomorrow. Some community members, however, are urging people to attend the meeting to let their views on the issue be known.
The garage and community center proposal is the kind of issue that has the potential not only to pit the neighborhood against the hospital but also to fuel traditional rivalries between community factions, who have not always agreed on what constitutes the best interests of the community, or on who represents it.
In recent years, the medical center has sweetened the bitter pill of hospital expansion by offering the community benefits such as housing and job-training funds in return for community approval of its projects.
For some in Chinatown, the current garage proposal brings back memories of a 1980s medical center effort to build a garage on the site that was ultimately rejected by the community. Another complication is the fact the medical center sold Parcel C to the Boston Redevelopment Authority several years ago with the understanding that it would be set aside for community use. In return, the BRA agreed to sell the hospital adjacent land along Washington Street for its new facility.
The swap between the BRA and the medical center included a proposal by then-BRA director Stephen Coyle to set aside Parcel C as the site of a Chinatown community center to house the neighborhood's social service agencies, which provide Chinatown's largely immigrant community with services such as English as a second language courses, employment counseling, and child-care services.
The Parcel C site was chosen because of its proximity to two planned community housing projects - neither of which has yet been built. Coyle's plan to build the center, however was never realized, in large part because the recession defused the building boom of the 1980s and brought on the collapse of some downtown projects that Coyle proposed could finance the Parcel C project through linkage funds.
With no prospects of linkage money in the offing, Coyle asked New England Medical Center officials if they would be interested in developing a project on the site in exchange for help in building a Chinatown community center. What evolved was the garage and community center plan.
Six Chinatown social service organizations had sought space in the proposed center, including the South Cove Community Health Center, which is seriously overcrowded. The agencies, which had agreed to discuss the garage proposal with the hospital, had together decided they needed a total of from 50,000 to 90,000 square feet of space. The medical center, however, was offering 10,000.
A committee set up by the neighborhood council to oversee the community center project, and which latter became Chinatown Community Center Inc. concluded that neither the 10,000-square-foot facility being offered nor the $1.8 million was adequate to fulfill the community's needs.
At least three agencies say they will continue to reject the $1.82 million offer, while all the agencies have rejected the 10,000-square-foot facility as too small. The Chinatown Community Center recently made the hospital a counter proposal of 30,000 square feet or $3.5 million, but the offer was rejected.
The issue has caused some tension between the Chinatown Community Center and the neighborhood council over which group will ultimately decide the matter, and among the six agencies, whose interests and needs vary.
Hospital officials are appealing to people's desire for immediate gratification, said David Moy, executive director of the Quincy School Community Council, an agency providing English as a second language classes and child-care, which is seeking space in the community center to expand its facilities. He added that basing a decision on fears "about whether we're going to get something or nothing" is not in the long-term interests of the community."
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