Observation Wheel a Possibility at Navy Yard

When the half-dozen concepts were being floated for the activation of the Navy Yard, one rose above the others – but in a literal sense.

That proposal by Upton + Partners – led by renowned Boston builders Budge and Jake Upton – stood out for its use of a Ferris wheel, or observation wheel at the foot of the DryDock 2, as well as innovative ideas to create mixed-use buildings on repurposed cruise ships.

Upton’s proposal was one of six that were to be on display for the public by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last night, Dec. 12, in a meeting that came beyond the paper’s deadlines. However, in an interview with Jake Upton this week, he detailed his company’s excitement for the effort at the Navy Yard and their project to help fulfill it.

Upton has proposed putting an observation wheel at the foot of DryDock 2, and then floating in re-build former cruise ships at other locations in the Navy Yard – including on the precarious and condemned Pier 5.

“We’re really excited for a dynamic proposal really firing up and designing an interesting space on a boat that can be re-purposed to have dynamic spaces to provide unique experiences that everyone wants to have when they come to the Navy Yard,” he said. “These boats would have modern-day amenities. My analogy is how we rehabilitated old Mill buildings. You can be very dynamic in creating modern spaces with historic timbers and beams. We’re applying that method we learned to boats in the Navy Yard.”

The observation wheel would be the most visible part of the plan, providing what Upton said would be a destination for local residents and tourists. He said it would provide a vista that no other area in the Navy Yard does, and would also give visitors something unique to do on the Yard – using technology inside to contemplate history and also future sea level/climate change.

In addition, the proposal would bring two to three mixed-use repurposed ships to various berths in the Navy Yard, and those ships could serve as hotels, marketplaces, food halls, shared-work spaces, and even an innovative, proposed public school boat near Menino Park.

One of the boats would be targeted for Pier 5, which was revealed to be in horrendous shape last month by the BPDA. The cost to make it safe for a public park space would be in the millions, and to make it safe for construction would be even more expensive.

Upton said they are very aware of that, and because of the cost-saving measures for constructing mixed-use boats, his company can put more investment into fixing the pier.

“That’s kind of why my proposal works,” he said. “The costs are low to re-purpose the boats because you don’t need a foundation, the elevators are there, the heating and cooling systems are there and you can build it off-site and float it in so neighbors aren’t disrupted by construction. We’ve had marine engineers down to look at all the piers and docs. We’re very aware of the cats associated with the reconstruction of that pier. We looked at a conventional building, but that pointed us back to the boats. We believe the numbers pan out for that and why it’s a good idea. We understand it’s a different idea than what people are thinking about, but we believe it really responds to the RFP very well.”

The floating school is proposed as a measure to help with the overcrowding in the schools in Charlestown, something that has come up over the last few years as more children from the neighborhood enter the schools and new development for families continues to press on.

Upton said the boat would have 28 classrooms, lab space, an auditorium, a cafeteria, a gym and all modern amenities. It’s a solution he said could benefit the needs of the community, the Boston Public Schools and further activate the Navy Yard.

“Boats have a real opportunity to provide us with great solutions because they are more efficient and can provide solutions to problems the community has encountered for a long time. It would be an innovative model for the city and for the world.”

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