A portion of the Arsenal Park renovations may be fast-tracked if the State Legislature allows the Town of Watertown to team with the developers of Arsenal Yards on the design and construction of the East End park.
To do so, however, would require avoiding the typical procurement process that the Town is required to work on a public project, said Town Attorney Mark Reich.
Tuesday night, the Town Council voted to allow Town officials to seek a public-private partnership with the developers, Boylston Properties, to allow the construction contractors employed by developers to do the work on a portion of Arsenal Park next to the mall. Developers would also contribute funds to cover part of the cost of the work. To form the partnership, the Town will have to get a Home Rule Petition by the State Legislature, Reich said.
Work on the former Arsenal Mall is in full swing, and Magoon said that businesses will likely be moving into the buildings next to Arsenal Park by this fall. The partnership would allow the park reconstruction to be finished around the same time.
“They would be able to do the work more quickly than we can,” Magoon said. “The requirements for procurement would not work with the timeline.”
Magoon said that if construction on the park begins in August, it could be completed by late October or early November. The design work, Reich said, could proceed before the partnership is approved.
Councilors wanted to know if the Town would lose control over the Arsenal Park project. if they let developers take over construction.
“The design of project is being done by the Town’s designer (CDM Smith),” Reich said. “The Town is not giving up any control. It was discussed whether developers would pay designers directly, but I raise concerns.”
The section of the park that would fall under the partnership is currently a hardtop area, but would be turned into a grassy area. It includes what is being called the grassy knoll, as well as, a flat grassy area and a pavilion, Magoon said. It will not include the proposed hardcourt area, he added, which has been a source of disagreement at meetings about the park renovation.
The project has been discussed by the Conservation Commission at multiple meetings, because the care and custody of the park falls under its authority. The designs are at the 25 percent stage, Magoon said.
Councilor Lisa Feltner wanted to make sure that Tuesday’s vote was not approving the design for the project. Magoon said the design has not been finalized, and will come before the Town Council before being approved.
Meanwhile, work on the rest of the park would wait. Councilor Angeline Kounelis wondered if the I-Cubed funds would be coming to assist with the renovation of rest of the park. The money would come from another public-private partnership — this one between the Town, Athenahealth (which owns nearby Arsenal on the Charles) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll said the Town still seeks to go ahead with the I-Cubed partnership, but added “we are waiting to hear from Athenahealth about how they want to move forward.” Several other projects would fall under the I-Cubed partnership.
Magoon noted that the I-Cubed funds would be used to extend the Community Path through Arsenal Park, and other work could go ahead without those funds.
Councilor Tony Palomba asked if Boylston Properties would contribute mitigation funds for any of the work on the rest of Arsenal Park. Magoon said the money from developers earmarked for the park will all be used on the eastern portion of the park. Boylston Properties has also contributed money toward improvements to Arsenal Street.