It isn’t often that the words “surplus” and “parking” are associated with Davis Square. But the request currently before the Board of Alderman to declare three municipal parking lots surplus property in our hippest square does that as well as bring up the long simmering, but little acknowledged question of responsible management of city owned real estate.
As the Board of Alderman once again considers the sale of municipal property, I urge them to ask if Hotel Davis Square is part of comprehensive municipal real estate plan that provides long-term benefit to the residents of Somerville. Will the city continue to lease space indefinitely while retaining ownership of 160,000 square feet of unused space? If a hotel is built on one of the parking lots, what becomes of the other two? What do the people of Somerville gain by having a unique, boutique hotel in Davis Square? Does it address our need for more affordable, family friendly housing? Does it add open space to our crowded city? Does it bring with it well-paying jobs, or significant revenue? Or is Hotel Davis Square a distraction, something that will keep the city from the hard, pragmatic, not particularly exciting work of sound property management?
This year, as it in the past, the city will pay rent to Tufts University and the Boys Club for the spaces used by SCALE, the school department’s central administration, and the Council of Aging offices. The amount budgeted for rent in fiscal year 2008 is $641,695. The irony is that the office space that the city leases are in buildings that the city once owned. Meanwhile, as the 117,000 square feet of the Powder House Community School, and the 43,000 square feet of the Homans Building sit padlocked and empty, the city is looking to lease more space for police substations in east and west Somerville.
In 2003, the city convened a municipal real estate review panel. These outside experts recommended that the city discontinue renting space, close City Hall Annex and consolidate the offices housed in those places in the renovated Powder House School. In December 2004, when announcing that at an architectural firm had been hire to draw up plans for the renovations, the mayor declared “This building has the potential to save the city a significant amount of money.” There was to be parking for 75 cars, while preserving the full-court basketball area; the building was to be converted from electricity to natural gas, plumbing and electrical systems upgraded, windows and hardware replaced, the gym was to be preserved for community use, all done within a sustainable “green” design framework. Construction was to begin in the summer of 2005. Why are we chasing a boutique hotel, when far-sighted, commonsense real estate projects are lying at our feet?
Suzanne Bremer is a long-time Somerville resident.