Special to the Dorchester Banner/Cambridge EDD
The Waterfront 2020 concept is illustrated and described in detail on the Cambridge city web site.
CAMBRIDGE — “There’s been a lot of misinformation going around about Sailwinds,” said Economic Development Director Natalie Chabot, “and I think it’s important that the public know that we are moving forward on the project. The Sailwinds development plan is not dead, it’s not going back to the state, and the city of Cambridge is continuing to work very hard on the project.” We got together with Ms. Chabot at the Economic Development offices to talk about the project, and where it stood after the negotiating agreement with The Parks Companies expired at the end of 2014. Currently, the project is moving forward with the rebuilding of the wharf. “Phase one is 97 percent complete. Morris & Ritchie Associates is the firm completing phase one and two, and they have delivered those results to the city,” said Ms. Chabot. “We are taking the precaution of doing additional core samples, just to make sure. That’s why it’s not 100 percent complete at this time, we took additional core samples from the top of the pilings holding the cantilevered part of the wharf—which is an amazing 38 feet wide.” In other words, the asphalt-surfaced part of the wharf adjacent to Governors Hall is supported by cantilevered beams off of pilings anchored right up at the edge of the building — exactly to the front edge of the “porch” portion of the west side of the building. This is why there was so much concern that Governors Hall would have to be torn down — the western foundation of the building is basically the footing for the cantilever portion of the wharf. From the far edge of the wharf surface to the “porch” of Governors Hall, underneath there is eight feet of water and a structure of beams for support. “So they are almost finished with phase one, but we have already signed a contract for phase two, which is the design for the wharf replacement. Once the design is done, that will give us a better idea of the actual cost of the wharf replacement.” The city will put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to hire a construction firm for the rebuild of the wharf. This will happen after the proper permits are obtained from MDE and the Army Corp. of Engineers, which could be late 2015 to early 2016. “The state of Maryland already paid for the preliminary inspection, they paid for hundreds of thousands of dollars of work on this project, back in 2010. They did a sounding study, they did a market study, and they did an evaluation of the wharf. And out of that really came the clarification that the wharf wasn’t going to be a repair, it was going to be a replacement. Our investigation into the wharf structure is to make sure we know what we’re getting, and that the design that the engineering firm comes up with is a good one. So that everything is solid.” “Phase two, the new design, is already underway. That will take time, we’re anticipating to the end of October. Knowing that is why we decided that Governors Hall could remain in operation until at least Oct. 31. We’ve had a promise all along, that ‘if we can, we will,’” said Ms. Chabot. “We didn’t want, we don’t want, to be put in a position where someone has to cancel an event because the structure has suddenly become unstable. So we do have the use of Governors Hall extended to Oct. 31, and that will be re-evaluated when we’re done with the final phase one. So by April we should know if we can extend the use of Governors Hall past Oct. 31.” In the meantime, Ms. Chabot also notes, a Mayor’s committee is researching the possibility of a replacement public venue for Governors Hall, what the facility might look like and where it would be located, what the cost might be; which also includes exploration into where the funding might come from to create a new venue. “A statement in another newspaper locally claimed that now the property would have to go back to the state, which is untrue. “The property will stay in the possession of the city, but we are bound by what was specified in the transfer agreement (signed when the city bought the property back from the state for $5). “The transfer agreement was based on the Waterfront 2020 plan, which was a very carefully considered process through input from the community. It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, let’s see what people think,’ it was adopted as part of the comprehensive plan. So the transfer agreement references our own comprehensive plan. That’s what we took to the state six years ago, and they said ‘Okay, we won’t sell it to the highest bidder, we’ll work with you to implement this plan. But we’re going to hold you to it.’ “So, according to the state, the property most be developed according to the principles set out in the Waterfront 2020 plan designed in 2009. (Information pertaining to Waterfront 2020 can be seen at this link: http://www.choosecambridge.com/index.php/economic-development/opportunities/waterfront-2020/ We asked if the Waterfront 2020 or comprehensive plan could be changed to allow a different use, or development, of the property. “Now that’s a whole different process,” Ms. Chabot replied, “And that would take some time. It took several years to do the comprehensive plan, and it was not fully documented until 2011. So you can see that it’s a big process.” Though the plan was conceived in 2008-2009 and finalized in 2011, still the word from some residents is that yes, there were lots of public meetings but then the city just “did what they wanted.” “It’s kind of hard to understand (that portion of the) public’s view of it. I do understand the view of the people who have moved here since, or weren’t involved before. But any time you’re talking about a state process, it’s going to take a lot of time. We were all in a different place in 2008, when the economy tanked. “But the truth of the matter is, Cambridge is a small town, in the big scheme of things, and for the fact that we could prepare a concept plan, take that to the state, change their minds about selling a property they owned on the front door of our community — selling it to the highest bidder — and us walking away with the property for $5, then given four million dollars to replace the wharf, and still be able to implement our own plan . . . well, it’s unheard of. For us, that’s a win-win-win. And we get to do this as long as we do what we said we were going to do, in the Waterfront 2020 plan. “If we stay focused on what we need to do, or said what we’ll do, we’ll succeed,” Ms. Chabot told The Banner. “If we don’t stay focused, or lose focus, we will falter and fail. And that’s when we can lose the property back to the state. “The bottom line is the agreement with the Parks Companies ran out on December 31. They are not prohibited from submitting any sort of proposal in the future, but the implementation of the ideas described in the Waterfront 2020 plan is now open for proposal to any developer interested in submitting a proposal.” In short, the City of Cambridge must create some kind of a development on the property, in accordance with the Waterfront 2020 plan, or risk losing the property back to the state. Sitting and reading the Waterfront 2020 plan is an interesting exercise, and a lot can be learned from it about what can and can’t be done with the property. “You can’t put a baseball stadium there . . . ” according to Ms. Chabot; the town also cannot commit it to a single use (as in, condos or a hotel), and in all cases waterfront access most remain available to the public—so anything built there cannot be built directly on the shoreline where it would impede access. It’s also helpful to remember the size of the property in question — slightly less than 12 acres, which in the world of commercial development is barely enough for a parking lot. Pie in the sky claims that the city wants to put stores, restaurants, condos, a hotel and an entertainment venue on that 12 acres has to be tempered by the simple fact that the lot can only hold so much. But the door is open again, for any developer who wants to respond to the Request for Proposal and submit a design in accordance with the Cambridge Comprehensive Plan. Until a developer wins the bid and submits a plan that is approved by the town, the Sailwinds property will remain the same, and Governors Hall will remain open at least until Oct. 31. When the wharf replacement work begins, more will be known about the final fate of Governors Hall.