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Quincy and the perils of mega-huge development projects

The developer of the $1.6 billion Quincy Center redevelopment project, which has stalled amid financial uncertainties, has been issued an ultimatum by the city: Build or the development agreement is terminated.

Or so says the city.

The reality, though, is that Quincy is now in a fine pickle. What does the city expect? The developer to simply hand over the rights to another developer — as if there’s a scroll of paper, rolled and tied up with a nice red ribbon, that can be handed off to someone else?

Good lord. Think of all the tangled legal and financial obligations that come with getting rid of one developer and getting another to assume the mess down in Quincy. It’ll take months, if not years, to sort out.

But the point here is really: Beware of grandiose government re-development projects to transform entire districts or neighborhoods. When they succeed, they succeed. When they fail, they fail. And they usually fail, at least at first.

The problem is that there’s almost no way for a government, and a single developer, to truly know what the public will want in the future when it comes to tying together multiple numbers of properties. It’s better to guide, not dictate, development plans, letting a certain amount of organic growth to occur and remaining flexible to market changes.

That’s exactly what has happened in the Seaport area. The real development of the area began decades ago with Fidelity’s visionary move to redevelop the World Trade Center and start building in the area. Then came the US Courthouse, followed by the new Convention Center and … you know the rest of the story.

Quincy’s downtown definitely needed work — and major infrastructure improvements — before it could truly take off and serve as a development release valve to Boston.

So maybe Quincy’s downtown plan isn’t/wasn’t too much of a pipe dream. Maybe it will turn out similar to the Big Pit fiasco at the old Filene’s site, when one developer crashed and burned and another had to be brought in to rescue the project (though we’re talking about one parcel of land at the old Filene’s site, not multiple-square blocks like Quincy’s project — see sketch above).

Maybe, maybe, maybe …

File under: Visionary Delusional Planning

Read other posts about: Massachusetts real estate

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