Faneuil Hall, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, is a welcome sight after you’ve walked across the brick windtunnel of Government Center Plaza passed City Hall, arguably the ugliest building in the history of concrete. Within the 6.5-acre marketplace, the 49 shops, 18 restaurants and pubs, 35 Colonnade eateries and 44 pushcarts attract almost 20 million people each year. But it’s getting a little stale since the area’s rebirth in the 1900s.
As with any renovation project at a historic landmark, the question of progress versus preservation takes center stage as the Boston Redevelopment Authority gears up to vote on an estimated $40 to $60 million project that will change the face of the marketplace on Thursday night.
These plans would bring in some big changes: Among other tweaks and tune-ups, the plans would revamp the Quincy Market food court, put in a new glass-enclosed storefront where a greenhouse stands and would bring in a 200-room hotel in the South Market building, granite slabs where cobblestones sit and new entrances to the markets.
Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation acquired the lease to famous three-building complex in September, 2011 from the BRA. From there, shop owners lease from Ashkenazy. Confused yet? So are many vendors. Ashkenazy has been making steady renovations throughout the hallowed halls over the past few years instead of undertaking a broad sweep of improvements with no time table, which has local merchants concerned. Business owners fear that Ashkenazy will send them packing to make room for national chains.
“Since 2011, they stopped giving us leases,” Harry Haralabatos, owner of Aris BBQ, said.
“Whoever’s lease was coming up or running out they wouldn’t renew it except some major players like Pizza Regina and Boston Chowda and a few others like Ned Devine’s upstairs like big players got leases. We never got leases.”
Faneuil Hall wasn’t always a beautiful destination. In fact, it was in such a state of disrepair that it was targeted for demolition until Bostonians rallied to preserve it in the 70s.
“Quincy Market is one of the best urban renewal projects we’ve remodeled in the whole country,” Boston Pewter owner Jeff Allen said. “We’re looking forward to the renovations. We need them. The property is tired, but we want to be a part of the process, instead of operating in a diminished capacity.”
Allen said that he is worried that his 36-year run in Quincy Market will come to a close once national chains gobble up local merchants.
“In the 1980s, we had mostly local businesses here,” Allen said. “When you’re talking about letting our leases end and bringing in national chains, you’re talking about going in the wrong direction. Keep it original, keep it simple. It’s not a hard concept. I want it renovated, but I want to be here.”
Haralabatos voiced similar concerns about the possibility of being shipped out in the name of progress.
“I am an original vendor,” Haralabatos said. “At the 25-year mark, they commemorated us and next week it’s going to be 40 years here. My dad is like 76 years old, he was 30-something when he got this place ... This is a family-owned business. This isn’t McDonald's. I don’t have any shareholders. I answer to them and my wife when I go home. If I lose the place, who do I answer to? What do I do? I am 46, start over at 46?”
A representative from Askenazy did not immediately return calls from the Metro.
The BRA will take a vote on the fate of Faneuil Hall on Thursday evening.