BOSTON (AP) – The cash-strapped Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is working to lease a prime downtown building that once was supposed to be its lavish headquarters, but has now been vacant for more than three years.

One development proposal would turn the so-called Parcel 7 building, located at the heart of the Rose Kennedy Greenway at Haymarket Square, into a food market, restaurant and headquarters for Winn Development. The Boston-based company has filed the bid and would locate its residential operations there.

The other bid, filed by the Pennsylvania-based Hersha Group, also proposes a market and office space, as well as a boutique hotel and two newly constructed floors on top of the building’s parking garage.

The existing five-story building conceals ventilation ducts for the Central Artery. Development proposals were requested in October and delivered in December, but there’s no firm timetable for awarding the lease.

“The Turnpike is still in the evaluation period,” spokesman Colin Durrant said. “No specific timelines.”

The lack of a deadline has typified the Pike’s treatment of the building since it was constructed as part of the $15 billion Big Dig project.

Major debt

The Pike has $2.2 billion in long-term debt, mostly from inherited Big Dig construction costs.

The budget situation is so dire its board members have approved a doubling of Boston-area tolls if state lawmakers don’t give them some other form of revenue by July 1.

Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed a 19-cent gasoline tax increase, which would leave the state with the highest such tax in the country.

Nonetheless, the Pike has left the building as an untapped source of non-toll revenue.

It claims $30 million in annual revenue from other real estate transactions.

The Pike board, which has since undergone a complete turnover, voted in June 2006 to move its headquarters from the state Transportation Building to Parcel 7. It also agreed to spend $7.96 million for the construction of offices and conference rooms.

Two weeks later, a Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapsed, killing a Boston woman and setting in motion a chain of events that led to the ouster of then-Pike Chairman Matthew Amorello.

His replacement ordered the project halted in August 2006, citing the cost as well as amenities that included a penthouse suite for Amorello. It featured a private bathroom, shower and balcony overlooking the Greenway.

The contractor ended up receiving a settlement of $1.36 million for six weeks of work on the property. And since then, the building has been unoccupied, all while the Greenway has been finished, the brick walkways around it completed and commuters have used the Orange Line station in its basement.

The only part of it put into service was the parking garage, which generates over $1 million for the Turnpike.

Winn and Hersha are proposing to build a market on the ground floor that blends with the area’s history. The nearby streets are filled each Friday and Saturday with open-air stalls featuring fresh vegetables and produce, as well as fish during the winter.

Many of its customers come from the North End, located on the other side of the Greenway, or are tourists.

“With Boston-based foods and products, the Boston Public Market would become a tribute to ethnic and cultural diversity in the city,” Winn wrote in its proposal.

Nancy Caruso, a longtime North End activist, said residents have already met twice with Winn and Hersha to discuss their proposals. She would not detail requested modifications to the plans, but she said the market space is crucial to gaining community support.

“We’d love to have boutique grocery stores, stores that would emphasize items we don’t carry in the North End and complement what we have in the North End,” Caruso said.

She said she has high hopes for having the marketplace serve a range of ethnicities.

“Boston is an international area not only of students and colleges, but also of people,” Caruso said. “I don’t think they have been as well served as they could be. Can you imagine something to serve them in a central location like Parcel 7?”

The developers are also pledging to tweak a little-known benefit from the building: discounted parking for North End business patrons.

They pay only $3 for three hours of parking, with validation, part of a neighborhood mitigation agreement from the Big Dig.

The price would go up to $4 under the Winn plan. Hersha did not address the subject.


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