The Money Pit

Poor Quincy. So far from God yet so close to Boston.

The Patriot-Ledger reports that the city has received about $145 million in state grants towards its plan to revitalize Quincy Center. As noted earlier, Quincy as a whole has mainly invested in two things: stroads and parking, with the result that despite having four Red line stops and relatively low rents, they’ve seem almost none of the development and economic growth seen in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

But Mayor Thomas Koch wants to change that by using millions of dollars worth of public money to build more stroads and parking. What could possibly go wrong?

According to the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, Quincy was the first city in the Commonwealth to use “district improvement financing” which uses tax growth to fund more parking, stroads and green space.

This approach has worked so well one $1.6 billion project has already fallen apart. “We firmly believe that financing and building new construction development in the downtown is impossible today,” developer Street-Works said in an ad in March of 2014.

That project already saw $250 million in public financing.

In April of this year, however, Quincy did announce partnerships with developers Alex Matov, Peter O’Connell and Sean Galvin for $100 million worth of development — a 15-story apartment building, two luxury condo buildings and a hotel. Plus the city committed to build a parking garage for all this development within walking distance of Quincy Center Station.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s around $400 million worth of “infrastructure improvements” to generate $100 million in development, or, for every dollar the City of Quincy is spending on stroads and parking, they’re getting back 25 cents. This is actually worse than the return on investment from the federal government’s road-building schemes.

It’s not just stroads and parking. The City of Quincy also wants to build a park because in the view of planners from 40 years ago, Quincy Center needs “open space” to attract businesses and shoppers. This seems like one of those things that people say when filling out surveys, but don’t actually care about.

In Greater Boston alone, the most vibrant commercial districts are not those with the most open space, parking or the widest roads. It is, in fact, the opposite.

Hanover Street and Salem Street in the North End, Newbury Street in the Back Bay, Washington Street in Downtown Crossing, Harvard Square in Cambridge, Davis Square and Union Square in Somerville. Harvard Avenue in Allston. Those places are so full of people, cars crawl through at snails’ paces. They don’t have parks, they don’t have parking garages, they don’t have four to six lanes of traffic for pedestrians to play live Frogger in. They don’t even all have particularly big residential components.

What they do have is a wide variety of businesses providing activity throughout the day, small and active storefronts and they are centered around foot traffic. Quincy Center seems like it has forgotten about it’s T stop.

 

 

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