Storrow Drive garage, park proposed
Clarification: Mass Eye and Ear says the profit on the existing Storrow Drive parking lot it leases from the state is less than $500,000 a year. CommonWealth reported it was at least $500,000 a year.
The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is proposing to build a four-story, 1,000-car garage underneath Storrow Drive and construct a park on top as part of a $170 million project that may also include an expansion of its offices out over the Charles Street Extension.
|The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary parking lot along Storrow Drive. Photo by J. Cappuccio.|
The Infirmary’s proposal is modeled somewhat on the park at Post Office Square, where a nonprofit created by abutting businesses tore down an old, above-ground parking garage, moved the parking underground, and built a park on top. The difference with the park on Storrow Drive is that it would be set in the middle of a busy roadway system instead of in the heart of downtown.
Street said the Infirmary would be delighted if the legislation could be passed before the current session ends on July 31, but acknowledged that was a long shot. “This is truly an exploratory process for us,” she said.
The Infirmary is likely to face resistance from those who would prefer to see Storrow Drive moved and the Esplanade expanded outward rather than having a park created on top of an underground parking lot in the midst of a busy roadway system. Ken Kruckemeyer, an architect and former state official who has participated in Esplanade planning discussions, said the configuration of the Mass Eye and Ear’s proposed park, the adjoining office expansion, and the likelihood of increased traffic congestion give him pause.
“It seems to me it’s a lose-lose-lose on the part of the public,” he said. “The Mass Eye and Ear proposal, to my mind, is a nonstarter.”
Rep. Martha Walz, who represents the area in which the proposed park would be located, said the Infirmary’s proposed legislation will probably be revised after meetings with residents from the West End and Beacon Hill are held next week. “This is the very earliest stages of this conversation,” she said.
The project would require a realignment of Storrow Drive and its access ramps at Charles Circle. Plans also call for access to and from the parking garage to be direct from Storrow Drive, which would reduce traffic in the Charles Circle area but could lead to backups on Storrow Drive itself. Since the project involves extensive roadwork, Street said there have been discussions that the state might pick up $30 million of the $170 million cost of the project.
Mass Eye and Ear is also seeking to buy the air rights above the area next to its building and above the Charles Street Extension. Street said that space would be used for an expansion of the hospital that would extend out above the proposed park and garage, allowing patients who park there to take an elevator directly into the hospital. The proposed hospital expansion is not part of the $170 million price tag for the garage and park.
Mass Eye and Ear currently leases the existing surface parking lots along and under Storrow Drive from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Infirmary pays $120,000 a year to rent the 400 spaces, an extremely low price that allows the hospital to turn a net annual profit of at least $500,000. The Mass Eye and Ear lease was one of several highlighted in a CommonWealth story earlier this year on sweetheart leases handed out by the state. The department has promised to put the Mass Eye and Ear lease out to bid.
(Michael Jonas and Colman Herman contributed to this report.)