DCR ups rent demands

Agency's requested minimum rent is four times what current parking lot operator is paying

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, under scrutiny for leasing state land at bargain-basement rates, is demanding a big increase in rent for a state-owned parking lot located in the middle of Storrow Drive in Boston.

The agency issued a request for proposals on Wednesday seeking a contractor to operate the parking lot and pay the state a minimum rent of $500,000 a year for three years with an option to renew for two additional years at the state’s discretion. The requested minimum rent is four times what the current parking lot operator, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, is paying.

The state’s rental arrangement with Mass Eye and Ear was one of several highlighted in a CommonWealth report in January on sweetheart deals handed out by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The current lease, which has never been competitively bid, requires Mass Eye and Ear to pay rent of $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year, for use of the 327-space parking lot.

A Mass Eye and Ear spokeswoman said the hospital makes a net profit “in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year” from the parking lot. The institution has operated the parking lot for more than 20 years.

Following the initial CommonWealth report, the commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Edward Lambert, called in state Auditor Suzanne Bump to review all of the agency’s leases. Bump hasn’t released her report yet, but Lambert said she has already brought issues to his agency’s attention requiring corrective action. “We have been on our own cleaning a lot of stuff up,” he said, declining to be more specific.

Mass Eye and Ear, which says it desperately needs more parking for its patients and staff, seems determined to hold on to the Storrow Drive parking lot. The infirmary’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Street, said the hospital intends to submit a bid in connection with this week’s request for proposals. The institution is also trying to build legislative and community support for draft legislation that would allow it to lease the property for 99 years. As part of its proposal, the infirmary would build a four-story, 1,000-car garage underneath the Storrow Drive surface lot it now uses and construct a park atop it.

The proposal also calls for a section of Storrow Drive to be relocated and Mass Eye and Ear to expand its existing facilities out over the Charles Street Extension to the edge of the new park. The project would cost an estimated $170 million; Mass Eye and Ear is seeking state funds to help with the relocation of Storrow Drive.

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Lambert said he didn’t see Mass Eye and Ear’s legislative proposal as an attempt to do an end-run around the agency. “They have the right to do that. Everyone has the right to do that,” he said. “We’re in the administrative branch. We’re here to implement the law.”

It is unclear what would happen if the Department of Conservation and Recreation finalizes the parking lot lease early next year and if Mass Eye and Ear then succeeds in pushing its legislation through the Legislature. “I suppose that legislation can be written to abrogate contracts,” Lambert said.