Master Plan for Boston:City Hall and Plaza Works to Revitalize Area

By Beth Treffeisen

The final Master Plan for re-imaging how City Hall and City Hall Plaza can be reshaped into a vibrant, civic hub has been completed, with early implementation of Phase 1 renovations set to begin soon.

“It is time that we re-imagine City Hall Plaza as the thriving, healthy, innovative space that it should be,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “It’s time we showed real pride in our front yard.”

The initial design plans were presented at a public meeting held last week at City Hall. The five-year design and construction process for Phase 1 implementation will run from 2017 to 2022.

“This is a vision plan,” said Michael LeBlanc AIA, principal at Utile Design. “This Master Plan is a collection of what we think are good ideas for City Hall and the Plaza.”

Pilot projects have already begun with installing lawn games and Adirondack chairs on the plaza, installing colorful exterior lighting that changes with themes, and events such as City Hall Front Porch, Beer on the Bricks and the re-turning Boston Winter Market.

Inside, improvements have happened to the lobby with better security check, and a new coffee bar. On the fifth floor, the newly handicap accessible City Council Chamber improvements have just re-opened, and on the upper floors, early phase department shuffles have occurred.

“The RFP will ask for a space that is welcoming, efficient, open and civic,” said LeBlanc. “One of the first efforts was to imagine City Hall and Plaza as a whole, and problems they both have, and, how they could compliment each other.”

Public space improvements to the plaza will include making it entirely accessible, provide space and infrastructure for all-season activities (such as electricity and water access), make all entrances to City Hall accessible, and define spaces of intimate scale to make the plaza feel less like a large expanse and more manageable to cross.

“We want the plaza to be a place where people want to be,” said Eric Kramer a landscape architect from Reed Hilderbrand LLC. “We don’t want it to be a place for just big events but for every day of the year.”

Maureen Anderson the senior project manager at the City of Boston said in the past that big events have had to overcome some large hurdles on the plaza.

“It’s been a huge challenge because there’s no infrastructure – there’s a lack of water and electricity,” said Anderson. “Events had have to improvise, which has left some damage to the Plaza.”

They have since upgraded some the electricity this past fall for the Winter Festival that returns Nov. 24. Anderson said the lack of infrastructure has caused some real challenges in getting programming on the plaza beyond just the Winter Festival, but that the future upgrades will hopefully make it easier to program the plaza yearlong.

Indoors, there are plans to make the second floor as an improved service delivery and transaction area. This will help solve the problem of sending people all throughout City Hall for routine services and transactions.

The third floor and mezzanine will serve as a concentrated civic gathering space with meeting rooms at the plaza level. As of right now, meeting rooms are scattered throughout the building.

All of the floors will be made more accessible through a centralized elevator that will allow the courtyard to be used for events, meetings and seating. The upper floors will be reserved for offices and conference room spaces.

“We are re-shaping the way people think about City Hall,” said LeBlanc. “We hope the accessibility and code upgrades will open it up for all to use.”

According to Anderson, the City of Boston has $60 million already secured for Phase 1 of the project.

Overall, Phase 1 is expected to cost $91.2 million with building required repairs costing $30 million, and plaza repairs including waterproofing and surface replacement and garage repairs costing $32.8 million. The additional costs $28.4 million will go towards public space improvements.

The renovations are phased out over a long period of time in order to gain more funding and to keep the building running during construction.

“We want this to be a high functioning space with lots of life,” said LeBlanc. “That has been used as the foundation for all of our plans.”

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