BRA looks to spruce up image

April 1, 2016
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The Boston Redevelopment Authority is looking in the mirror and it doesn’t like what it is seeing. It’s time for a makeover.

The City announced last month that the BRA will be getting a “strategic advisor” to help the authority develop an “organizational identity” and “brand strategy,” according to a press release. A request for proposal (RFP) has been issued by the BRA for the position.

BRA spokesperson Nick Martin said the authority has “done a lot of changes to improve trust” since the Walsh administration took over in 2014, including reforms, new policies, and more community engagement. He said that there is more work to be done, including to communicate the changes that have happened. The strategic advisor’s role will be to help that happen.

Martin said that some people look at the BRA’s past and are “cynical” and think that the changes are “purely superficial.” He said, “I would push back” and ask them to consider the “substantial changes” in the past two years. Martin said that he has worked for the City for eight years and two years at the BRA, and that the “culture” is “dramatically different” at the authority from what it had been.

Martin pointed to the Washington Street/Columbus Avenue corridor planning study in Jamaica Plain/Roxbury as an example of the new BRA. He said it’s being run in a “completely different way” with “a lot more interaction and small groups.”

Martin said some of the new policies and protocols that have been implemented include increased accountability, transparency, and ensuring a public process for any land acquisitions. That latter issue became a source of public outcry when in the closing moments of the Menino administration, the BRA used its eminent domain authority to permanently lease the use of Yawkey Way to the Boston Red Sox for concession stands for about $7 million.

A North Shore businessman is suing the BRA over the deal, saying he wanted to bid for the concession-stand rights. State Inspector General Glenn Cunha slammed the deal in a report, saying it was flawed and probably cost the taxpayers money.

Martin said that changes were made at the BRA because of that incident and that any similar land acquisition will have a public meeting and public comment period.

Development can be a contentious issue, according to Martin, and the BRA has started to explain its rationale behind approving contentious projects. He said that in the past, “that didn’t really happen.”

To further illustrate the new BRA, Martin brought up the Garden Garage project downtown. The project involves building a 44-story tower on Lomasney Way, replacing a parking garage. Martin said that project faced a lot of criticism, but that the BRA worked with the developer, the community, and the impact advisory group to “address the concerns.” He said the developer slightly decreased the scale and reduced parking from the original proposal. (The project still had community opposition when it was approved by the BRA board in February.)

“I’m not sure the same changes would have happened under prior leadership,” said Martin.

He said that not everyone will be in agreement when it comes to development, but the BRA will be “thoughtful in listening.”

The deadline for the RFP is April 29. Martin said the BRA wants to hire someone by the end of spring. To view the RFP, visit bit.ly/21SEpXx.

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