By Paul Digiammarino
Charlestown faces a critical choice, which is decades overdue. As requested by the Boston Planning and Development Agency [BPDA], three developers recently submitted proposals to restore or replace blighted Pier 5 in the Charlestown Navy Yard. The long-neglected Pier 5—currently at risk of collapse—sits at a truly ideal location: “The Head of the Harbor” along the beloved Boston Harborwalk, with excellent views of the city skyline and only steps from the Charlestown Ferry public dock.
I live in Flagship Wharf beside Pier 5, and am President of the Navy Yard Pier 5 Committee [NYP5]. We are an independent group of folks who live, work, and play in the Charlestown Navy Yard. We are not associated in any way with developers. Over the past five years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to ideas that promote the public’s use and enjoyment of Pier 5, an unparalleled location that makes it “The Jewel of the Harbor.” Please read our mission statement on our website, www.NavyYardPier5.org.
Since three proposals for development of Pier 5 were released earlier this year, NYP5 has met with local NGOs and stakeholders, as well as each of the three developers. We’ve carefully reviewed all three proposals and the developers’ answers to questions. On March 15, we formally advised the BPDA to reject the proposals by 6M Development and Navy Blue, LLC. We explain our conclusions fully in our letter to the BPDA, which is publicly visible on the “Resources” page of our website.
The third proposal, from Urbanica, substantially satisfies the BPDA’s proposal requirements. However, we have told the BPDA that NYP5 cannot approve Urbanica’s proposal as-is because it brings potential adverse effects to the neighborhood due to its height, as well as operational and programming issues detailed in our letter to the BPDA. We further believe that a mixed-income ownership model—coupled with live/work artist housing—should be prioritized for this site, rather than the proposed rental model. The Committee does believe these issues could be remedied. We would be open to evaluating any revised Urbanica proposal that addresses these issues, while also exploring the viability of a non-commercial option.
The Committee has formally requested that the BPDA grant a six-month period so we can engage with Urbanica, the BPDA, NGOs, and community stakeholders to explore a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model, as well as a non-commercial option to resolve key issues. The goal is to achieve a win-win outcome for the City of Boston, the historic Navy Yard, and the Charlestown community. During this six-month period, the Committee will explore undertaking a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign to support the best option. Our goal is to elevate the Pier 5 project by encompassing a more holistic “Charlestown Community Waterfront” [CCW] approach, which would include the neglected sections of the Harborwalk between Piers 3 and 7; former Drydock 2; and underutilized Piers 3 and 4. In this vision, Pier 5 is the first major step toward building an inclusive and sustainable public waterfront for Charlestown.
Charlestown has tremendous talent in our community willing to commit their time, energy, and skills to achieve our positive vision: a community-built Pier 5. To readers of this column: even if you have previously voted against the project, we hope you will reconsider after reading this. We ask you to join our effort by becoming a co-creator in this project and help us realize Pier 5 as “The Jewel of the Harbor.”
Paul DiGiammarino is a Charlestown resident and President of the Navy Yard Pier 5 Committee, a community organization founded in 2016.