Business

Massport wants public realm improvements as it seeks developers for remaining Seaport land

Pumpkins cover the lawn during Punkin’ Fest near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center at the Lawn on D Street, an example of a neighborhood project that contributes to the public realm.
John Blanding/Globe Staff/File
Pumpkins cover the lawn during Punkin’ Fest near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center at the Lawn on D Street, an example of a neighborhood project that contributes to the public realm.

The Massachusetts Port Authority will require developers to factor in enhancements to “the public realm” when pitching projects for its properties on the South Boston waterfront.

The port authority included this new provision in a request for proposals that it released on Monday for an office project on a 1.1-acre site along Congress Street, next to the Silver Line’s World Trade Center station. Massport also plans to consider this factor as it looks for developers for two other high-profile parcels in the area over the next year.

Critics have bemoaned the boxy architecture and the shortage of civic spaces as waterfront parking lots get swallowed up by development. As a major waterfront landlord, Massport chief executive Thomas Glynn is well aware of the criticism. This new initiative at Massport represents an effort to respond.

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The bid language doesn’t specify the public-realm contributions Massport wants, although it lists examples such as “public art projects, performances, programming strategies, and resiliency measures.” Glynn said the agency will keep an open mind.

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“It’s not going to be transformative, but shame on us if we don’t try,” Glynn said. “We’re the public agency. We should be trying to stir things up and encourage people.”

Examples of neighborhood projects in recent years that contribute to the public realm include the Lawn on D park alongside the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Glynn said, and the Harborwalk at Liberty Wharf.

The next site Massport will put out to bid will likely be a 1-acre property on Congress Street, next to John Hancock’s headquarters, followed by a 2-plus acre site at the corner of D and Summer streets.

Construction is expected to begin soon on a 1,054-room Omni hotel at that intersection, on Massport land. For that development, Massport gave points to teams that demonstrated significant minority representation or involvement, and it plans to continue to do so with other parcels. Other criteria used by Massport include the developers’ track records and the economic benefit to the agency, namely through ground lease terms.

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A 1,550-space parking garage is rising next door, on Massport land on D Street. Massport plans to open the $85 million facility to the public next month.

Massachusetts Convention Center Authority spokesman Nate Little praised Massport’s new effort. The initiative, Little said, lines up with the MCCA’s ambitions for how it will proceed with its 30-plus undeveloped acres behind the convention center and between D and E streets.

“It’s a good step forward in terms of ensuring that as developers take what’s certainly valuable property, that they’re finding ways to make something that’s attractive not just to them, but to everybody else,” Little said.

Representative Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat who has been pushing for a library in the Seaport area, praised Massport for trying to address a need in the neighborhood.

“I think this could be used as a model for other state agencies that are looking to put real estate out for development,” Collins said.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.