Officials Seek Higher and Better Use Of Leased Land on Mystic River

May 25, 2018
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Details from a sublease between MassPort and its Charlestown tenant, Boston AutoPort, show that the Authority earned approximately $562,151 in rent on waterfront, City-owned land in Charlestown over a period of six years.

It is the same City-owned land that MassPort leased from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) for $1 over a 40-year period, making its rent to the City about 2.5 cents per year. The 94,199 sq. ft. parcel’s lease is up July 2019, and that fact has stirred controversy between the Town, the City and MassPort over what will become of it in the future – whether MassPort would continue to collect rent from other companies or whether the community could come together to discuss other uses for the waterfront parcel.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards and several in the community have focused on the land as a key parcel for potential green space or development or both and are calling for a community process to discuss what the community wants.

“The goal is to make sure that community has full transparency and to assure that we are working on the best deal for Charlestown,” she said. “For me that means looking at the numbers and making sure we are getting our fair share.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan countered that one has to consider the history of the 40-year lease, noting that the Little Mystic land had nowhere near the value back then that it does today. That said, he indicated it was an important time for the Town to examine the land.

“This is interesting opportunity to revisit where Charlestown has been and envision where we want to go,” he said. “Back 40 years ago, a $1 lease probably made sense. The mission of both MassPort and the BRA, at the time, was to spur economic growth in an area and region that had just lost its Navy Yard and other main sources of industry.
“There have been some initial conversations about not just the Little Mystic specifically, but also looking at all the government-type property in the area,” he continued. “There is a ton of it. We need a big picture look at where do we want to go as a community. The Little Mystic was a good impetus, but we need to look bigger and broader.”

He said that he, Councilor Edwards and Sen. Sal DiDomenico are all on the same page with the planning for Little Mystic and other government-owned land with the Walsh Administration and State agencies.

 

“I think we are all on the same page; there are just a lot of pieces,” he said.

The Patriot Bridge has been  requesting the AutoPort sublease on several occassions from Massport. So, this week the paper was able to acquire the lease through other official sources – showing that despite paying 2 cents a year in rent, in recent years the Authority has been making a pretty penny in return for the small piece of land that is used for overflow parking.

MassPort and the AutoPort, which is simply a tenant on the property, signed the lease in 2011, and rental payments of base and supplemental rents began then. The lease runs for several years on the entire AutoPort property, with an average of about $3 million to $4 million paid per year for the whole property. Using square footage charges for the first six years of the lease, up until 2017, the paper figured up the rental payments made on just the BPDA land.

On just Little Mystic, in the first two years (2011-2013), MassPort collected approximately $79,127 and $79,249. In 2013-14, they took in approximately $93,579, and in 2014-15 they took in $93,779. In 2015-16, they took in $103,399, and in 2016-17 they took in $113,018.

Some of the figures for the years and the total of $562,151 are approximate due to the fact that supplemental rent isn’t spelled out in exact terms for five of the six years. The sublease also has contingencies for the future of the BPDA land, whether or not a new lease is made with the City.

The parcel – which is on the waterfront affectionately known locally as Montego Bay – abuts other uses such as a Harborwalk and two parks that contain playing fields. Another use next to it is a public boat ramp. The parcels are the lone parcels on the Channel that are within the Designated Port Area (DPA), which is mostly located on the other side of the street.

In the lease, the land is officially the Moran Annex and supports operations of the AutoPort.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for MassPort said, in defense of the rent payments, the Authority makes an $18.2 million Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment to the City of Boston each year. She also said, in 2018, MassPort is contributing more than $50,000 to the Charlestown community in grants, summer job programs and other community initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Boston AutoPort currently processes nearly 80,000 cars annually, and the area is home to approximately 10 maritime/industrial businesses with hundreds of employees. The AutoPort will generate almost $1.5 million in taxes for the City and Commonwealth in 2018. Since 2011, the AutoPort has made $15 million in capital improvements, the MassPort spokesman said.

Through the grapevine, many have indicated that the BPDA is hesitant to give up the land for anything other than the current use and would like to re-negotiate the existing lease with MassPort. In recent comments to the paper, that seemed to be the case as last month they said the parcel helps to create jobs and economic activity.

“We…look forward to continued conversations about the required active maritime industrial/water dependent use on this land,” read a statement last month to the paper. “These conversations will require the input of multiple state and local stakeholders. The BPDA parcels at Little Mystic create a significant amount of economic impact for the Charlestown neighborhood, including approximately 500 jobs.”