What’s next for Charlestown Pier 5, Boston’s saddest pier

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After authorities reject plans to replace Charlestown Pier with houseboats, residents are pushing for a beautiful waterfront park. But if no one is willing to pay, the last vacant Navy Yard jetty could be left for dead.

Platform 5. Courtesy of the Quai 5 Association

You’ve probably heard of Pier 6. You may have gotten off the ferry at Pier 4.

But for many, there isn’t much to say about Pier 5, the unloved middle child of the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown. Or at least nothing good.

“It’s the abandoned, sad, empty pier with nothing to do,” said Morgan McDaniel, project manager at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, earlier this year.

And it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Last month, the BPDA announced that it was rejecting several ambitious ideas to transform Pier 5 into waterfront housing due to financial costs and physical challenges, after a years-long effort to find a way to use the location and its breathtaking panoramic views. from the skyline and Boston Harbor.

The conclusion of the final chapter in the pier’s long history was applauded by some local residents who fought to maintain Pier 5 as open space.

“We were thrilled when we heard this,” said Rosemary Macero, a Charlestown resident and member of the Pier 5 Association, in a recent interview.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition to rehabilitate the closed jetty into a public park flowing into Boston Harbor.

However, city officials say the pier is unrecoverable. And the BPDA’s decision to reject the housing proposals throws its future into even greater uncertainty. Any stimulus project would cost tens of millions of dollars without a clear source of funding.

If nothing else, the BPDA floated down demolishing the pier for safety reasons, and just moving on.

But with a new municipal administration, advocates hope Pier 5 has a future.

“It’s right in the center of the northern part of the port, one of the most protected points, where the Mystic River and the Charles River converge,” Macero said. “It is an iconic site.”

Platform 5. – Courtesy of the Quai 5 Association

Located in the waters where British ships fired at militiamen during the Battle of Bunker Hill, the wharf was originally constructed of timber in 1912 as part of an expansion of the historic Navy Yard, before be rebuilt with concrete and steel during WWII to repair battleships.

After the Navy Yard decommissioned in the 1970s, the federal government transferred ownership of the property to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, now the BPDA, as part of a plan to develop much of the waterfront in a mixed-use district.

However, the dilapidated strip remains fenced and unused between its two popular peers; Pier 4 is home to the MBTA’s Charlestown Ferry Dock, as well as a non-profit youth organization, while Pier 6 is perhaps best known for its eponymous restaurant.

After nearly half a century, Pier 5 remains the last vacant lot in the Navy Yard.

Somehow the BPDA says it should be completely rebuilt to be reused. The pier’s underwater steel pilings corroded over time, making the entire 650-foot-long structure unsafe. According to a study commissioned by the city, the demolition and reconstruction of the pier alone would cost $ 16 million. And any redevelopment will face the growing threat of rising sea levels.

In order to finance the project, the BPDA launched a call last year to seek public-private partnerships to redevelop the pier. In response, they received three proposals and many brilliant renderings.

A proposal for floating housing at Pier 5 by the development company 6M.

One plan offered dozens of multi-family floating homes for rent, linked by a boardwalk. Another suggested floating communities with Amsterdam-style canals, “pocket parks” and a waterfront bar. A third floated 89 low-income apartments, a grocery store, shops and a waterfront public park at the end of the pier, elevated 20 feet above the water.

A rendering of Boston-based development firm Urbanica’s proposal to build 100% low-income housing at Pier 5, as well as stores and a park.

BPDA officials applauded the proposals for “extremely creative approaches” to tackling the housing shortage in the area and the challenge of climate change on the pier.

Ultimately, all three were turned down.

“We have determined that they are not the right approach for this site at this time,” BPDA officials wrote in a letter of November 22, withdrawing their request for proposals.

The two plans for floating housing, they said, would not comply with Navy Yard waterfront development regulations requiring at least 50% of the pier to remain open space, among other design guidelines. They would also raise security concerns as “the first case of floating accommodation in a port on the high seas”, in addition to hampering the operations of the nearby non-profit sailing organization “to the point of infeasibility” .

And while the BPDA said the Third Plan’s proposal to build 100% affordable housing on the pier would be “very beneficial” in the high-priced Navy Yard, officials said the large number of government grants required would make it financing the project “extremely difficult”, “given the high unit costs due to the cost of demolition and reconstruction of the jetty.

“Housing on a non-floating jetty structure also presents long-term resilience challenges due to sea level rise,” BPDA officials added.

In addition to rejecting the proposals, the BPDA said it was “strongly supportive” of residents’ calls to preserve the pier as an accessible open space, run by two groups, the Pier 5 Association and Restore Pier 5.

A rendering of a park located at the current location of Pier 5 in Charlestown. – Quai 5 Association

But city officials said such a project should be fully funded by the private sector. Unlike their public-private partnership plan to build pier housing, BPDA officials said neither they nor the city of Boston currently have any plans to spend public funds on a Pier 5 park.

The BPDA said it would “enthusiastically support” the creation of more open space or a park at Pier 5 through philanthropic or private funding. They even say they would accept an asking price of $ 0 if such a proposal arose.

So far none have.

According to the BPDA, a park could cost tens of millions of dollars, not including the estimated 16 million dollars to demolish and rebuild the pier.

The Pier 5 association, which commissions its own engineering study, disputes this figure. Macero said the first indication is that at least part of the pier could be stabilized and restored for use as a public space, at a lower cost.

Still, she acknowledged that it would take “a lot of money to make this vision a reality.”

To that end, they want the BPDA to donate money to facilitate a park, using whatever funds they put aside to demolish the pier. Restore Pier 5 has also argued for fundraising in the recent federal infrastructure bill.

“It couldn’t be done before because there was never any money,” said Bob Markel – a former Springfield mayor, high school friend of President Joe Biden and a member of Restore Pier 5 – said at a gathering in June. “Times have changed. There’s a silver Niagara flowing out of Washington, DC now.”

“I just think it’s a great opportunity,” Macero said.

Of course, there are also opportunity costs.

BPDA says Pier 5 is an “unlikely candidate” for public funding, with the Navy Yard already “well served” by open public spaces including Shipyard Park, Pier 4, Menino Park and Navy Yard National Historic Park.

At the same time, there are low-income neighborhoods around Boston struggling with increasing heat islands due to a lack of open space – let alone a waterfront view – who authorities say are most in need (as of 2017, the median household income in Charlestown was $ 103,243, about two-thirds more than the city average of $ 62,021.

“There are areas in Charlestown, as well as other parts of the city of Boston, which are in greater need of public funding for the creation of parks,” BPDA officials wrote in the November 22 letter.

“Equitable public investment in open space must prioritize the needs of low-income and diverse communities who currently do not have adequate access to open space and face serious risks from climate change,” they added.

Macero argues that the location of the city’s largest public housing development 800 meters away, along with Charlestown’s high proportion of veterans and Gold Star families, gives Pier 5 a fundraising case. She also says the waterfront park aligns with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s focus on climate change resilience and environmental conservation.

“It’s a much easier route if the city can put money for infrastructure, or money for historic preservation, or money for climate resilience,” Macero said.

Wu’s office declined to say whether it supports earmarking public funds for a Pier 5 park, but the city is considering soliciting more ideas.

“We look forward to launching a new community vision process for the site in 2022 and releasing an updated RFP that takes into account community feedback and economic feasibility,” said Emma Pettit, carrier. Wu’s word, in a statement.

The BPDA says the new process is unlikely to result in housing, due to the feasibility issues they encountered after the first request for proposals.

And while they have already engaged several traditional open space philanthropic funders and have not been interested in funding a park, it is possible that the outcome will be different after the new process, said agency officials.

With less than three and a half years from the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill and the 400th anniversary of Boston in 2030, Macero hopes to make significant progress next year towards creating a park in time to commemorate historic markers. With any luck, or a wealthy donor with the cash to spend, she’s hoping 2022 will finally be the year of Pier 5.

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