Roth Blunders, Menino Counters in Downtown Crossing Debacle

If you’ve been to Downtown Crossing in the last year or so then you’ve probably seen the eyesore that used to be Filene’s flagship store, a site eagerly awaiting development by Vornado and John Hynes’ Gale International. The site has been neglected by its owners for some time now, but after Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado, co-developer of the site with Gale International, was caught boasting about how he let a similar urban development site in New York decay until the government was forced to kick in some extra cash, Mayor Menino countered, refusing to allow Roth to repeat his scheme.

We can’t be absolutely sure that Roth is indeed trying to haggle the city for a little extra cash by leaving the Filene’s site an uncovered dump, but after his remarks during his speech at Columbia University, it is definitely a likely possibility.

So how did Menino counter? With a letter. Menino informed Roth that he will not hesitate to use the city’s power to seize the semi-demolished property (called eminent domain power.) This forces Roth, Vornado, and Gale International to draw up a plan to improve the site that must be verified by Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Whether Menino should follow through with his threat or not is a matter for debate.

If Menino does indeed try to seize the property with his eminent domain power, there will be some hurdles to overcome. First, there is the price, which must be approved by a court as the appropriate market price. Seizing property also scares other developers in the area who may fear that similar action will be taken against them. This having been said, today’s boston.com editorial offered this, “buying a prime piece of real estate in a low market is not a bad investment, and could pay off for taxpayers down the line. So it should remain an option.”

Roth blames the economy for his lack of action with the Filene’s site, but his inaction has turned Downtown Crossing into a mess. The planned development is to build a 39 story mixed-use building that would house offices, retail stores, and residences.

What do you think? Tired of seeing Downtown Crossing the way it is? Just want the old Filene’s to be fully demolished? Think Roth should be driven out of our city? Think Menino is being a bully? Let us know.

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