Testimony of Leslie Singleton Adam, Board Chair, Friends of the Public Garden, to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, regarding House Bill 3749
June 27, 2017
Good morning Chairmen Moore and O’Day, Vice Chairmen Timilty and Stanley, and members of the Committee. My name is Leslie Singleton Adam, and I am here as Board Chair of the Friends of the Public Garden to testify on House Bill 3749, titled An Act Protecting Sunlight and Promoting Economic Development in the City of Boston. While we are hesitant to take a formal position on the bill at this time, since we are engaged in discussions with the City of Boston and Millennium Partners on what we hope will be a mutually beneficial agreement that will protect our cherished downtown parks, I am here to offer some thoughts on the legislation and context about the issues it addresses.
First, I would like to provide some information on the history and mission of the Friends of the Public Garden. The Friends has worked in partnership with the City of Boston since 1970 to maintain, enhance, and advocate for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. When we first came into existence in the 1970s, the parks were in total disrepair. Today they are national treasures and are the heart of the city.
We are in the parks daily, working as guardians and gardeners for 1,700 trees, 53 acres of grass, and conservators of 42 pieces of public art, including the world-famous George Washington, Shaw Memorial, and Make Way for Ducklings statues. The Friends is able to invest more about $1.6 million annually directly into the parks to more than match the city’s annual appropriation through the Parks Department. With over 3,000 Members representing 133 communities in the Commonwealth, all of the funding for our work in the parks comes from private donations.
We care for the parks on a daily basis and work to restore the many fountains and statues that grace them. We raised $4.4 million to renovate Brewer Fountain Plaza near Park Street Station to bring it to life with tables and chairs, music, a reading room, and an active food truck program. And we raised $720,000 to restore and set up a maintenance fund for the famous ”Angel” fountain (George Robert White Memorial fountain) in the Garden to its former glory, bringing the water back after 30 years.
We come to this issue not as hobbyists, but as experts in horticulture and longtime partners with the City. We have raised legitimate issues regarding the impact of the shadows the Winthrop Square Building will cast on our landmark parks. We still have strong reservations about a one-time amendment to laws that have worked to protect our parks while allowing development to continue in downtown Boston. But we are working toward an agreement that will result in a significant investment in the parks, as well as a comprehensive planning process for downtown development. Our goal is to minimize – or mitigate – the impact of the shadows and gain assurances about future exemptions from these laws.
We have been working closely with the Mayor and the BPDA, members of the City Council and the Boston legislative delegation – Reps. Jay Livingstone, Aaron Michlewitz and Byron Rushing and Sens. Will Brownsberger and Joe Boncore – and they have listened to our concerns. In this bill are assurances that the City will undertake a comprehensive downtown planning process – something we plan to be fully engaged in. Also in this bill is the elimination of the remaining approximately quarter acre of allowable shadow under the law in the so-called Shadow Bank.
We acknowledge that the City Council’s 10-3 vote was a clear statement of support, and that the Mayor is strongly supportive of this petition. However, the City consistently refers to this project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we plan to hold them to that. We will oppose any further encroachment of shadows on the city’s landmark parks. And we hope that, in its consideration of this bill, the Committee will make it clear to the City that you will not entertain further exemptions to these laws that have protected our parks for over two decades while allowing robust economic development downtown.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important matter.
On June 7th, the Friends celebrated the completion of our latest capital project, the restoration of the George Robert White Memorial fountain. Joined by many friends, including City Councilor Josh Zakim and Parks Commissioner Chris Cook, new Friends Board Chair Leslie Singleton Adam thanked the generous donors who made this restoration possible.
Special thanks to Weston & Sampson, Zen Associates, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Boston Parks and Recreation Department for their contributions to the fountain restoration and landscaping work, making this a beautiful corner of the Public Garden again.
In tribute to our wonderful late Board Chair, Anne Brooke, we also dedicated a beautiful Horsechestnut tree for her inspired leadership of the Friends and this special restoration project.
On June 1, 2017, the board of directors of the Friends of the Public Garden elected Leslie Singleton Adam as Chair. Adam has been on the Friends board since 2014 and is only its third chair, succeeding the late Anne Brooke.
First Vice Chair, Colin Zick said, “The Friends is tremendously fortunate to have someone of the astuteness, practical vision, and nonprofit experience as Leslie Singleton Adam stepping into the Chair position at this significant time in the organization’s life. Under her leadership, I know the Friends will continue to flourish.”
Leslie Singleton Adam said, “It is an honor for me to serve as the Chair of the Friends of the Public Garden and I am excited to help the Friends grow. This impressive organization has done so much for the Boston community by investing over $1.5 million each year in the care of our parks. I will continue to advance the Friends’ mission for excellence of care, active advocacy for park protection, and encourage a deepening partnership with the City in support of the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall so that we can pass these treasures on to the next generation in better condition than we received them.”
Adam brings impressive credentials to the position. She spent many years in the management of professional service firms, most recently at The Boston Consulting Group. She is currently working in real estate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. Adam has been involved in a number of nonprofits here in the Beacon Hill community, including the Beacon Hill Nursery School, the Beacon Hill Civic Association, the Nichols House Museum and recently served as the President of the Beacon Hill Garden Club in which capacity she also was an ex officio member of the board of the Friends of the Public Garden. Born in Boston, a life-long park lover, Leslie and her husband Alastair have lived on Beacon Hill for 19 years, moving here from London. They live on Chestnut Street with their two children.
Adam takes the helm at an important time for the Friends continuing its primary mission of funding the expert care of trees, turf, and sculpture in all three parks. A major turf restoration and irrigation project is being implemented for the Common and the Mall, and the finishing touches for landscape improvements to the Boylston Street boundary of the Garden will be completed this fall. The $2.5 million campaign for the Henry and Joan Lee Sculpture Endowment is nearing completion.
April 26, 2017 – “The Council’s action today sets a precedent for future tradeoffs of money from developers for city approval of luxury skyscrapers that will cause damage to our landmark parks. It is naive to think that another developer won’t put millions of dollars on the table to entice the city into more exemptions to allow more shadows and cause more damage.
As stewards of the Boston Common and the Public Garden for the past 47 years, we have deep knowledge of the stresses on them. We find it disingenuous of the city to disregard our concerns and minimize the impact this building will have.
We support the revitalization of the Winthrop Square Garage site, but the proposed 775-foot skyscraper violates the shadow laws 264 days of the year on the Boston Common, and 120 days on the Public Garden.
The state’s shadow laws have worked for nearly three decades to strike an appropriate balance between allowing development to continue and protecting the Boston Common and the Public Garden. We will take our case to the State House to ensure this balance will not be jeopardized.”
It was standing room only at the Friends Annual Meeting on April 12. After the usual Board business, Executive Director, Liz Vizza gave an inspiring summary of the year’s accomplishments to the attending members. Thanks to the generous donations of the members, the Friends was again able to make over a $1 million investment in the maintenance of the Common, the Garden, and the Mall focusing on trees, turf, and sculpture while also pursuing notable capital improvements.