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Redevelopment and Historic Preservation in South Boston

Redevelopment and Historic Preservation in South Boston

By: Corey Brodeur, Adam Hathaway, Michael Newcomb and James White

For the Boston Environment Department and Boston Redevelopment Authority

Advisors: Michelle Ephraim and Ted Crusberg

Technical Advisor: Fabio Carrera

Executive Summary

This Interactive Qualifying Project was conducted for the Boston Landmarks Commission and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The final product is a property information database created in Microsoft Access with a MapInfo GIS component to be used by both potential developers and the City of Boston. While this system could be expanded in the future to include the entire city, this project focused on a commercial and industrial section of South Boston adjacent to the Reserved Channel.

The goal of our project was to facilitate the redevelopment process for South Boston while at the same time protecting historical landmarks in the area. The database accomplishes this by centralizing property information that developers would otherwise have to collect from many different sources, saving them valuable time. Properties having historic value to the BLC are flagged in the system, and developers are notified to contact the agency to discuss pertinent historical or archaeological information on file.

The property information database is composed of one main form broken down into six tabs. The tabs organize general information, historical characteristics, environmental details, previous tenants and uses, site photographs, and on-site utilities. The information in the database includes the size of the building's footprint, a visual assessment, the past tenants, the building's current value, and more. An eleven-character code, combining the section of the city the property is located in, street address, and a serial number, identifies each property.

The GIS component of the project utilizes MapInfo layers that allow users to view the property information in a graphical manner. All of the properties in Boston are included, with the sites in the project team's focus area m South Boston highlighted. The layers analyze information from the database, such as icons showing land parcel values, historical sites, and potential ground contamination. The preceding map layers are able to show the location of a building along with its characteristics, which will assist developers interested in not only their piece of property, but also others in the area as well.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, in conjunction with Mayor Thomas M. Menino, recently started the Back Streets program, which provides development, marketing, and financial assistance to qualified industrial businesses in the city. Using GIS maps, along with the property information from the database, sites that are potentially eligible for Back Streets incentives can be identified. This will assist the BRA in preventing the ongoing loss of industrial properties due to thriving residential construction.

The Boston Landmarks Commission reviews all development proposals that might impact historic properties in the city. In a city as large as Boston, reviewing all proposals is nearly impossible. By flagging sites with potential historic value on the GIS maps and in the database, developers can determine if the BLC needs to be involved with the development process. This alerts the BLC as to possible developers' interests and permits them plenty of time to consider the historic nature of the project and to delay any projects they deem detrimental to the historical heritage of Boston.

Overall, this system provides an enormous amount of information about properties in the city for developers, the first and only centralized property information database known in Boston. All of the information is conveniently stored in one location, saving the potential developer valuable preparation time. If a developer discovers that a property does not meet certain requirements, another property can be quickly selected without having to start the whole process over.

Prior to the development of this database, developers would have to spend large amounts of time researching all information related to a potential redevelopment site. If the developer discovered that the potential redevelopment site did not fulfill certain requirements, the search for a new redevelopment site would have to be started over. This was not an efficient use of time, money, or the development process. The project team developed a methodology that describes how relevant building information can be collected efficiently and how it uses the database as a means to store and retrieve the information in a very usable manner.

The City of Boston strives to encourage redevelopment in South Boston. Our database will make it easier to search for potential redevelopment sites in this area. The database will simplify the redevelopment process and will encourage more developers to consider this area for future projects. Also, the BLC will learn more about redevelopment projects in Boston, as developers will now wish to communicate with the agency to prevent delays later on in the development process. This improved communication system enhances the ability of the BLC to protect historical sites in the city.

The database has endless possibilities if it is extended to cover the entire City of Boston, and additional fields can be added to the database to address more specific needs of developers.

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Last modified: Jul 26, 2002, 19:39 EDT
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