Posted: May 25th, 2022
Post Office Square Park
Case analysis guidelines:
Post Office Square Park was the brainchild of a prominent Boston developer. His hotels were located near a dilapidated park that was leased by the city of Boston to a parking garage owner. To enhance the beauty and utility of the location, Norman Leventhal proposed that a public park be created, with an underground parking garage. Private sector funds and tax exemptions would pay for the project, and eventually the city would pay for the construction through the parking fees collected by the developer. After the city’s debt was paid off, ownership would revert to the city, resulting, theoretically, in a win-win scenario for both parties. Leventhal, the orchestrator of the plan and the owner of the nearest hotel clearly saw it in his self-interest to improve the area, given that the unattractive garage was visible from his hotels. Employees already enjoyed lunching a nearby park overlooking the unsightly garage. However, securing private funding was more difficult than originally planned.
The notion of a ‘win-win’ arrangement for the city was also questioned, given that the new administration began to consider the idea that replacing the unattractive parking garage with a revenue-generating office tower might be a superior way of dealing with the city’s financial problem. This was another way to satisfy its desire to complete the beautification of the Boston city center where the park was located. Furthermore, there were a number of legal, political, and economic obstacles in the way of the park’s construction. First of all, the lease of the current parking garage was still in force for a number of years, far longer than Leventhal wished to wait to see his project come to fruition. Many developers already had their eyes upon the site. The city was limited in its ability to generate revenue through property taxes by a recent proposition that had been passed. Tenants, however, preferred the idea of an attractive park and a concealed garage, versus a new high rise building that would compete with an already-congested skyline.
When the actual, financial data upon the proposed park was ‘crunched,’ it soon became manifest that the project was far more expensive than originally proposed and that the city was capable of providing far less revenue. The Friends of the Post Office Square Corporation was created, through a series of tax waivers and fee agreements. Support in the community, as well as the Boston media, was initially strong. Newspaper support was highly influential in the acceptance of the proposal. The park was seen as beautification of an area that could be enjoyed by everyone, versus a corporate location that could only be enjoyed by a few. The major pockets of resistance occurred in the financial community of Boston.
However, Claremont Development Associates entered the picture, apparently offering the best of both worlds — an office complex with a less unsightly parking garage, that would still devote a substantial portion of the area to park land that could be enjoyed by public users. The revenues derived from the project for the city would be substantial, and public opinion began to turn against the initial park. What was the value of a purely aesthetic park and a rather moderate office structure, as proposed by the Friends of the Post Office Square, versus the more lucrative venture of Claremont? The city of Boston was ‘hurting’ and desperately needed revenue. Also, many Bostonians desperately needed affordable housing, which the Claremont Development could theoretically make more of a feasible reality, given the provision of linkage payments derived from the more financially sustainable office complex.
Supporters of Claremont noted that the proposal would still allow for a park structure to be created, albeit not as large as the original Friends proposal. In Europe, many parks existed which were designed to be very aesthetically pleasing, even though they were tucked away into a relatively small enclosure. Moreover, it was not as if the district in which the park would be located was undeveloped — the question was how much land in a highly congested area of Boston should be devoted to open space, versus developing a large and pristine area of territory. And Boston already had many large public parks. In fact, some people said that having a larger structure to shield the sight of some of the uglier and more industrial buildings of the area might be desirable, versus a more open park and an underground garage.
The divide between ‘the people’ of Boston and ‘the developers’ was not as clear-cut as might have initially been suggested by the facts. There were many competing financial interests, not only those of the developers who wished to use the park for their own and the city’s needs. Furthermore, the needs of the city had to be taken into consideration, both the financial needs of the shrinking coffers of Boston and also the financial services demanded of the city’s overtaxed residents. But it was unclear which proposal would ultimately generate more revenue, in the long run — that of Claremont or that of the Friends proposal. The revenue derived from both proposals — both the parking lot and the office building — would depend upon market conditions. Ultimately, the Friends proposal was selected, not because of the financial revenue that could be obtained through taxation, but a general sense that Claremont was more of an unknown quantity as a developer by the newly-elected mayoral administration. This indicates how emotion just as much as hard facts and financial data can result in a particular decision taking place within the confines of a city. Ultimately, in retrospect, the untaken Claremont proposal seems more of a ‘win-win’ of aesthetics and revenue for the city, and offers the ability to add jobs as well as provide more beauty and parking to the area.
Scott, Esther. (1993). Post Office Square Park. Case Study: Kennedy School of Government.
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