Can City Hall Plaza morph from an underused windswept wasteland into a hub of fun?
It can and it should, Mayor Marty Walsh said on Tuesday, calling it a “brick desert” in need of a makeover.
“This is a brick desert that’s been here for a long time and … we activated it last year and people loved it,” Walsh said, after tossing around a football with a young boy, as a small crowd played cornhole and Polish horseshoes.
Walsh, who calls it Boston’s “front lawn,” stopped by the makeshift outdoor space to herald the start of summer.
The unloved plaza has the possibility of an overhaul in its future. The city announced in March it selected the owners of the TD Garden to bring a livelier, more welcoming environment to Government Center. Plans include a beach in the summer and skating rink in the winter, and, perhaps, a Ferris wheel. It’s all part of an initiative the city is leading called “Rethink City Hall.”
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Until the proposed overhaul comes to fruition, the city for the past two years has been covering a portion of the bricks with a thin layer of fake grass, setting up lawn games and surrounding the space with plastic Adirondack-like chairs.
“We have a bigger future planned for the future of the plaza,” Walsh said, “but this is kind of a way to use the space more productively.”
The plaza has been morphing into a happening place of late. Most recently, it hosted a beer gardenwhere a small army of sunglasses-wearing young professionals waited in a long line to sip some suds, then it welcomed the fourth installment of the innovation festival Boston TechJam.
But most of the time the plaza is essentially a glorified parking lot, only one you can’t park on.
The plaza had also been the site of Boston Calling, the popular music festival that just recently announced it plans to move its concerts to Allston.
If the new design plans ever become a reality, Walsh said Tuesday he believes it could still accommodate events of Boston Calling’s size, and said the invitation will “absolutely” still be open for anyone looking to start up something similar.
“Certainly we want to make sure that whatever’s planned for the plaza, there’s gonna to be space to be able to do things like Boston Calling,” he said.
On Tuesday at least, the pizzazz of the summery set-up was drawing a crowd, in a way that the big, wind-whipped red crater of a plaza never could on its own.
It can definitely use some love but City Hall Plaza has lots of potential, said Heidi Schork, 58, of Jamaica Plain, who was relaxing in one of the chairs and taking in the commotion on the grassy area.
“It’s the coldest place on Earth” in the winter, said Schorck, who also heads the Mayor’s Mural Crew and earlier painted a series of pigeons on the fence at the Government Center station construction site. “But the views are beautiful. It’s just great. It’s so Boston.”
She actually likes all the brick, she said. But some trees, like the ones featured in the proposed plaza makeover plans could help break up the punishing wind, said, and some grass and plants would be nice.
“You could come out and smell the flowers and sit under a tree,” she said, “and not in the kiln.”