Bostons Big Dig opens up waterfront for new museum

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BOSTON -- With the massive Central Artery/Tunnel Project -- known to locals as the Big Dig -- nearing completion, stately Boston is getting a hip new look. The engineering project, the largest of its kind in U.S. history, broke ground in 1991, has cost more than $14 billion and, during the height of the construction period, created a less-then-picturesque cityscape dominated in some areas by cranes and trucks.

The idea behind the project was to put a major traffic throughway underground and underwater, easing traffic congestion in the city and reclaiming about 300 acres of open space, some of which has been earmarked for parks and other public use.

While the Charles River Basin and the Wharf District are among the areas benefiting from improvements, one of the most exciting changes is in the citys waterfront, which had been obscured from view by traffic before the project opened the harbor to the rest of the city.

In addition to its new visibility, the waterfront is in transition mode, thanks to the debut of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and what will be a 47-mile public walkway along the waters edge.

Art over water

The jewel in the crown will be the new Institute of Contemporary Art, set to open on Sept. 17 as the first museum to be built in Beantown in nearly a century.

Tourism officials expect the 65,000-square-foot facility, with its dramatic design and scenic location, to become one of the most recognized architectural landmarks in Boston.

Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro CQ, the ICA will feature a cantilevered exterior that extends out to the waters edge, with a facade of glass, metal and wood.

The galleries, which will be located on the top floor, will total 17,000 square feet of space, with 16-foot-high ceilings, concrete floors and an adjustable skylight to maximize natural light.

The Long Gallery also will have a glass wall facing the harbor, while the fourth floor will be equipped with a media center housing computers, documentary facilities and educational materials.

A 325-seat theater and a restaurant managed by Wolfgang Puck are among the other facility features at the ICA likely to help revitalize the waterfront area.

In all, the new museum will triple the exhibition space available at the old ICA, located in Bostons Back Bay, which draws 25,000 to 40,000 visitors a year.

In contrast, the new facility is expected to bring in 200,000 visitors in its first year alone, according to Paul Bessire, ICA external affairs director.

With the completion of the Big Dig, there is a shift toward downtown, and we are looking to be a leader in giving people access to the harbor and the Harbor Islands, Bessire said.

The location of the ICA also takes advantage of the massive clean-up of Boston Harbor, a joint effort by the state, city and national governments, he said.

To highlight the Harbor Islands, which few tourists know about and where even fewer venture, the ICA will commission artists to create works that showcase the islands as natural and cultural resources.

Also on tap is the transformation of the museum from a sole emphasis on visual arts into a multidisciplinary facility with performing arts, dance and theater.

The new harbor walkway will intersect with the museum, and outdoor performances, including music and film, will be a regular feature in the warmer months.

We were selected for this site by the Boston 2000 Commission to be a magnet to bring vitality to the area through cultural programming, said Bessire, adding that the ICA is already working with hotels to create museum packages for this fall.

More room at inns

The 793-room Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, connected to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, is set to open in July. Also scheduled to debut in the waterfront district in 2006 is the $330 million, 21-story InterContinental Boston, slated to have 424 guest rooms and 130 condos.

Officials at the ICA also hope to attract cruise passengers, given the proximity of the citys cruise ship terminal and the new Silver Line public transportation route that connects the previously marooned dock area with the rest of the city.

More collaboration is on the way, as well.

Thanks to the Big Dig, its very easy to get to the waterfront now, and well be working with the Childrens Museum and the New England Aquarium to bring people down here, Bessire said.

For more information on the ICA, visit www.icaboston.org. For more on Boston, call the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau at (888) SEE-BOSTON or (888) 733-2678 or visit www.bostonusa.com.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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