A panel of planner Steve Cecil, Boston Redevelopment Authority deputy director Tad Read, A Better City’s Richard Dimino and sustainability entrepreneur Wendi Goldsmith gathered at the Boston Society of Architects’ offices downtown for a discussion on the future of Suffolk Downs. The former race track has been in limbo since plans for a casino on the site fell through and New England Revolution and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft is rumored to be interested in buying it for a soccer stadium. Renee Loth, the editor of the BSA’s Architecture Boston magazine, moderated the discussion.
From left to right: Steve Cecil, Tad Read, Wendi Goldsmith and Richard Dimino.
Patrick Tedesco, a co-chair of the BSA’s urban design committee, said that the Suffolk Downs site consisted of 161 acres in East Boston and Revere that was created by filling in a salt marsh and channel between Hog Island (now Orient Heights) and Noddle Island (now Beachmont). He said that according to projections of sea level rise, by the year 2100 the situation will have returned to its original condition.
East Boston in 1770 with the current cost line superimposed on it.
Tedesco said that there were other challenges for Suffolk Downs: it’s right in the flight paths of Logan International Airport and so the Federal Aviation Administration has imposed height limits of 125-175 feet on the site; the soil is contaminated from fill and decades of horse manure and it can be difficult to access.
“This is a huge amount of area — it isn’t just an incremental change,” Cecil said. “The communities are going to be able to have their cake and eat it, too.”
Goldsmith said it was a major opportunity to build a development that would work with water instead of ignoring it.
Dimino said it had enormous potential for economic development because it has very good connections to the South Boston Waterfront and its Innovation District. He actually understated the potential, as the Silver Line Gateway project currently under construction to bring better transit to Chelsea, potentially allows a connection with the Grand Junction Railroad, which goes from Chelsea to Kendall Square and Allston’s Beacon Yards.
Once the Grand Junction comes into play, one has part of the Urban Ring.
Dimino did say that Suffolk Downs needs more transit and that the areas around the existing Blue Line stations — Suffolk Downs and Beachmont — ought to be dense.
“You can have low-rise neighborhoods that are quite dense,” Cecil said.
Read said that it would be important to consider the impact of changing technology and suggested that car-sharing and autonomous vehicles could change the mode-share equation.
“A lot of density could be developed there,” Read said.
Fred Salvucci, a former state secretary of transportation, cautioned against building just what was popular with architects right now. He also said that the oil tanks in Revere on the northwest side of the site have to go.
“That use is no longer appropriate,” he said.
A volunteer group will produce a design charette, to be unveiled on Thursday.