Airport '81: Good old Boston politics vs. developers
When you land from the south on runway 4L-22R at Boston's Logan International Airport -- the nation's fourth busiest overseas gateway -- you skim across the Inner Harbor. Off to starboar, the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. To port, Boston and America. And almost underneath you, just left of the point where the runway climbs out of the sea, is a wind-blasted stretch of weeds dotted with construction trailers and some left-over dumpsters: Bird Island Flats, vacant for seven years and now swamped with controversy.Skip to next paragraph
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To some, it is the most mouth-watering piece of seaside real estate in Boston.Offering majestic views of the city, it fairly cries out for hotels, offices, and other people-related projects. To others, it offers the last hope for expansion of the relatively small (2,500 acre) airport. Sitting next to present runways, it is the obvious place for thing-related developments like better cargo-handling facilities, or even a new short take-off and landing (STOL) runway. To still others, it is the logical terminus for a long-cherished third harbor tunnel. Lying about a mile from the expressway downtown, it could become the salvation of hundreds of airport-bound motorists exhausted (in both senses) by chock-a-block traffic in the Summer and Callahan Tunnels.
But most agree on one thing: Like airport expansion plans from Tokyo to London, it is a political football field. Swirling across its 95 acres (created between 1964 and 1974 by dumping $50.7 million worth of fill into the harbor) is a debate which weaves business interests and environmental concerns into a tangled skein of political machination.
Its current tale of intrigue begins in a $125 million development plan for Bird Island Flats proposed by its owner, Massport -- the autonomous port authority that operates Logan out of its own revenues ($100 million in 1980) and reinvests its funds in various port-related developments. The plan centers upon a new 444,000-square-foot cargo handling facility, complete with access aprons and a helipad. On this facility there is general agreement: The increasing airfreight demands for time-sensitive shipments of everything from lobsters to computers makes expansion a priority. Without it, Logan international will be hard pressed to grow beyond its 1980 record, when it logged in as the eighth largest airport in the country in cargo tonnage.
The controversy, instead, hinges on what is known as the "mixed-use" aspect of the plan. For Massport proposes to use 20 acres along the water's edge for:
* A 300-room conference center, designed to handle executives wanting quick-in-and-out access to meetings.
* A 120,000 square-foot office complex, for firms and regulatory agencies now housed at Logan and growing.
* A 500,000 square-foot computer information and marketing center, the first of its kind in the nation, where high- technology firms can meet prospective buyers on the model of such permanent trade facilities as the Los Angeles Design Center or the Chicago Merchandise Mart.
* 1,100 parking spaces for the above facilities.
* A "walk-to-the-sea" -- a slender landscaped pathway to take advantage of the glorious views.