Two local stories shared the Boston Globe front page last week. General Electric switched CEO’s in what looked like an acknowledgement of its declining fortunes, and the City of Boston agreed to sell a public parking garage to a developer who intends to build a 75 story tower. The tower will cast a shadow over Boston Common, which requires the city to ask the state for a change in state law so the $153 million deal can go through.
The Globe never met a real estate deal it didn’t like. It’s not just $153 million, they reported, that figure includes $102 million for Boston Common, Franklin Park and public housing. There is even $5 million for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
There is another way of looking at the $153 million– one that is closer to reality. It’s roughly the same amount of money which Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker gave to GE for the priviledge of having a “world-class corporate headquarters” right here in Boston. Actually, $153 million is somewhat less than what GE got. But in any case the amount given to GE would include $102 million no longer available for Boston Common, Franklin Park, and public housing. Of course, the GE deal would never be reported that way. Like any huckster, the city, and it’s cheerleaders at the Globe paint a vivid picture of the benefits of the two deals, and only the most abstract idea of the cost.
It’s hard to see what the public gets out of all this. The public will no longer own a prime piece of real estate in downtown Boston, and after all the transactions cancel out the city gets only the questionable prestige of being associated with a declining corporation– and a big shadow over one of its major (I would almost call it world class) landmarks. Mayor Walsh, after having (mercifully) failed to get the Olympics or Grand Prix racing, gets to show that he can pull off a bad deal despite what all the critics say. He also gets to take credit for recouping part of the public money that he never should have given away in the first place.
No doubt that money, now that it has been earmarked, will be relatively safe from the normal process of appropriating public funds– all the hearings and votes and accountability. Some people will like that.
But twenty years from now, that 75 story tower will still be throwing shadows onto Boston Common. It’s pretty likely that by that time the light bulb that symbolized GE will be a lot dimmer. That’s not the only dim bulb in this deal.