The Esplanade Association (‘EA’), nonprofit partners of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (‘DCR’) as stewards of the 64-acre Charles River Esplanade in Boston, this week announced a gift to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that would fund the establishment of Charlesbank Landing, a two-acre riverfront park enhancement on the historic Charles River Esplanade in Boston.
Charlesbank Landing would transform an area of the Esplanade that has largely been closed off from the public since the 1990s by bringing visitor services, recreational and open space, and cultural amenities to one of Boston’s most-visited destinations. The project is anchored by a new, year-round Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion visitors center. The Esplanade Association’s gift includes a commitment to fund at least 30 years of the site’s operations and maintenance expenses, including all costs of running the Pavilion facility. The total value of the gift is expected to exceed $20 million and will be funded by donations from members and supporters of the Esplanade Association. The commitment represents one of the largest private gifts to the Commonwealth’s state parks system in history.
The Charlesbank Landing project is the result of a wide-ranging public process in 2017 led by DCR to establish goals for the future use of the long-neglected Lee Pool complex on the Esplanade. The agency retained Maryann Thompson Architects (‘MTA’) and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (‘MVVA’) while engaging the Esplanade Association and more than 20 stakeholder groups in a nine-month analysis reflecting nearly a dozen community meetings and hundreds of public comments. The Charlesbank Landing plans achieve each of the consensus goals from the 2017 public process while adopting an added focus on climate change preparedness and resiliency planning.
“Charlesbank Landing is the culmination of decades of conversations about how to establish a signature waterfront destination on the Esplanade to better connect our visitors with nature and one another,” said Michael J. Nichols, Executive Director of the Esplanade Association. “Charlesbank Landing and the Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion will together further this mission and serve as an iconic riverside gathering place for generations to come.”
The Pavilion facility at Charlesbank Landing would be approximately 10,000 square feet and include a visitors center, interpretive services lobby, the park’s first year-round public bathrooms, public meeting rooms, a café, a programmable roof deck, park administrative support space, and more. A 7,500 square foot open-air park operations and horticultural workspace would adjoin the multipurpose, LEED-certified building to support enhanced care of the entire 64-acre Esplanade.
Charlesbank Landing would boast over 70,000 square feet of landscape improvements promoting nature, recreation, a renewed connection to the Charles River, and public gathering opportunities outside the Pavilion facility. The site would include an event lawn, outdoor classroom, youth regulation-size athletic field, café seating, a nature play area with a modern stormwater management and retention feature, new river access at a rebuilt riverbank, new tree groves and pollinator gardens, and new connections to the Esplanade’s popular pathway system.
Charlesbank Landing Landscape Plan. Courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
“For 20 years, the Esplanade Association has supported improvements that make the Esplanade a more vibrant, safe, and accessible place to visit,” offered Alexi Grenadier Conine, Chair of the Esplanade Association Board of Directors. “This donation represents the latest step in our successful public-private partnership with DCR, which has led the Esplanade to become the most visited state park in Massachusetts with over 3 million visitors each year.”
The gift is the signature element of the Esplanade Association’s ongoing celebration of the organization’s twenty-year public-private partnership with DCR. Since 2001, EA has directed over $21 million toward capital restoration work, park improvement projects, horticultural care, and public programming on the Esplanade in partnership with the state parks agency.
Charlesbank Landing would serve to expand the successful public-private partnership between EA and DCR by setting a modern example for how to fund, construct, and operate a transformative improvement to the Commonwealth’s state park system. Pending legislation in the Massachusetts Legislature sponsored by State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and State Rep. Jay Livingstone would formalize the terms of the public-private partnership for the Charlesbank Landing project, ensure no net loss of public land, and pave the way to begin final design, permitting, and construction. The public-private partnership would be structured to complete the Pavilion project and the adjacent landscape improvements at no cost to Massachusetts taxpayers, with the Esplanade Association committing to fund design and construction and then gifting the Pavilion to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The public building would then be leased for an initial term of 30 years back to the Esplanade Association to operate, program, and maintain, in partnership with DCR and the Division of Capital Asset Maintenance and Management, at the Esplanade Association’s own cost.
“The Charlesbank Landing project is a win-win for neighbors and visitors to the Esplanade and for the State itself, as the State receives a fully-funded major renovation to a two-acre portion of the Esplanade, a new public building, and a commitment for at least 30 years of operations and maintenance at no cost to taxpayers while the public receives a markedly better Esplanade with significantly improved amenities and programmatic offerings now and in the future,” offered Sen. DiDomenico.
“The Charlesbank Landing plans represent the work of dozens of stakeholders over the past 25 years and especially in the last five years as the community, working with DCR and EA, identified the recreational, environmental, and operational goals desired in such a major redevelopment of long-underutilized state parkland. I’m delighted with how far the project has come and the array of public amenities that will result from the area opening to the public in the years to come,” said Rep. Livingstone.
To date, 23 organizations have signed on to support the project and its accompanying legislation, signifying a diverse group of stakeholders in the future vibrancy of Charlesbank Landing: Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Festival; Beacon Hill Civic Association; Boston Landmarks Orchestra; Charlesgate Alliance; Charles River Alliance; Charles River Conservancy; Charles River Watershed Association; Community Boating, Inc.; Downtown North Association; Environmental League of Massachusetts; Esplanade Association; Friends of Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields; Friends of the Public Garden; Garden Club of the Back Bay; Hill House; Lederman Memorial Committee; Massachusetts General Hospital; Museum of Science, Boston; LivableStreets Alliance; Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay; WalkBoston; West End Civic Association; and the West End Museum.
“The Esplanade Association is working to make the Esplanade a welcoming and inclusive space for artists, makers, musicians, and others,” said Catherine T. Morris, social entrepreneur and Founder and Executive Director of the Boston Arts & Music Soul (BAMS) Festival. “EA made the famed Hatch Shell available to musical artists and producers of color and we are excited about upcoming programming opportunities at Charlesbank Landing.”
To learn more about the Esplanade Association and the Charlesbank Landing project, or to access additional renderings and project details, please visit Esplanade.org/Charlesbank.