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“Common is for all,” but privatization looms ahead

After a controversial call for privatization of the nation’s oldest public park received a negative backlash, City Council has abandoned its idea for a private conservancy for the Boston Common. However, critics of this proposal say the city’s new plans to use private donors to finance the Common’s restoration will unfairly exclude some members of the public from accessing the park.

Boston City Council’s Special Committee on the Boston Common, headed by newly elected City Council President Michael Ross (Back Bay, Fenway, Kenmore), sent a call to private donors in its final report released Dec. 16.’

In addition to a restaurant modeled on the Shake Shack in Central Park, the report lists fencing along the edge of Tremont Street, a $300,000 renovation of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Brewer Fountain as important projects needed to revitalize the Boston Common.

Each proposition will need more funds than are available from the government, Committee member Councilor Salvatore LaMattina (East Boston) said.

‘We’re not going to see a lot of resources from the city so we have to go out there and look into private funds,’ he said.

Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods cofounder Shirley Kressel said this is not true when you look at the city’s finances.

‘There’s tons of money in the city that’s being wasted, and they all know it,’ Kressel said.

Kressel said she is a critic of the Committee’s report because the real motivation behind seeking private funds is to purify the Common.

‘The benefit of privatizing it is that it will be sanitized for them in a way that will be difficult to do for a public government,’ she said. ‘The government, per se, would have a harder time throwing homeless people off the Boston Common.’

At least 100 homeless people live on the Common during warmer months, the Emergency Shelter Commission estimates. Forcing the homeless out would violate the Parks and Recreation Department’s policy that the ‘Common is for all,’ according to the report.

The report’s statement that providing shelter is a top priority is a show, Kressel said.

‘It’s just moral talk that’s covering for what’s really happening,’ she said.

Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Mary Hines said private funding is not unusual. Hines said organizations have already contributed to cleaning up the Common.

The Ritz-Carlton Boston Common donated $10,000 of fencing along Tremont Street when it built a new hotel along with several other private donors, Hines said.

Surrounding businesses should be approached for further contributions, LaMattina said.

‘We’re going to look at some of the abutters of the park and see if they’ll step up to the plate,’ he said.

Kiosks operated by the Boston Boys and Girls Club on the Common have been asked for assistance, according to the report. Boston Boys and Girls Club spokesperson Jan Goldstein said the club cannot spare the approximate $40,000 it gets from the kiosk program for the Common project.

‘Even a cut of that amount would be significant for us in the amount of kids that we would not be able to serve,’ Goldstein said.

Many of the projects are listed as long term and the report’s conclusions are merely recommendations, LaMattina said.

‘It’s a footprint for things that we looked at and things that we need to do, and how we get there,’ LaMattina said.

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