On Columbia Point, a Partnership in Trouble

A community organization wired to prominent neighborhood-based institutions likely will expire quietly this week, a victim of funding shortfalls and internal disagreement. The Columbia Point Community Partnership was scheduled to be dissolved at a special meeting of its board of directors Wednesday, leaving several projects unfinished and the Dorchester peninsula's community wondering what would come in the wake of a group less than three years old.

The CPCP, a cooperative venture between several companies - including the Boston Globe, Boston College High School, UMass-Boston, and the Corcoran-Jennison Companies - headquartered on the Dorchester peninsula, was conceived in 2001 "to leverage institutional resources in order to develop the peninsula into a more cohesive community and a more dynamic, attractive area of the city," according to its mission statement. But the organization had struggled to raise funds, with executive director Audrey Morgenbesser admitting financial difficulties to the Reporter in October.

The large companies that invested initially have been unwilling to contribute more money to sustain the partnership, according to sources. The board canceled its regularly scheduled annual meeting earlier this year and pulled the plug on a March 4 fundraiser.

Otile McManus, director of special projects for Corcoran-Jennison and clerk of the CPCP board, said it "would be premature to write the obituary" of the group, but said Wednesday night's special meeting would address matters with great sway over its future.

While even board members wondered privately about a grander vision of the partnership, its smaller and more tangible projects included beautification, financial literacy, and voter registration efforts that likely will die out. With Columbia Point just two decades removed from a morass of crime and poverty, some observers wonder if the partnership's pull-out could have a deflating effect on the community.

"Who's going to make sure that there is a community process for dealing with Columbia Point?" asked Bill Walczak, executive director of Codman Square Health Center, a CPCP board member, and a Savin Hill resident. "It's very clear that, with more than 20 acres of undeveloped Land, Columbia Point has some of the most valuable real estate in Boston, and it's vitally important that the community has a role in how that land is developed."

While the CPCP did not adhere to the local civic group blueprint of testifying at Zoning Board of Appeals and Licensing Board hearings, its supporters hoped the organization could reach beyond small-scale projects like underpass beautifications and voter mobilization drives, and tackle a larger goal like crafting a "mini master plan" for the peninsula.

"A lot of people hoped they could do that, and they were going in that direction, but they ran out of time," said Molly Dunford, the area's City Hall liaison.

The CPCP is staffed by an executive director, Audrey Morgenbesser, and a community initiatives coordinator, Moira Convey. Neither answered repeated phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Frustrated by a lack of funds in an economic climate that has proven harsh on non-profit enterprises, the CPCP backed away from a plan earlier this year to paint a mural on the Morrissey Boulevard underpass in Kosciuszko Circle.

The individual companies within the group have experienced mixed results recently when aiming for community approval on development-related issues. The Globe proceeded smoothly with a large-scale addition to its Morrissey Boulevard offices, and B.C. High is moving forward with plans for a new building. But UMass-Boston met with vociferous opposition to its proposal to build student residences on Columbia Point, and Bayside Expo, a subsidiary of Corcoran-Jennison, which also owns the building that houses the Reporter offices, has faced some civic turbulence over traffic issues.

Orlando Perila, treasurer of the Harbor Point Community Task Force, said his group struggled last spring to work on a joint project to furnish a computer center, but met with "a lack of cooperation" from Morgenbesser and the CPCP.

Despite the group's star-crossed efforts to unite the peninsula's powerful institutions into a cohesive force toward improving and developing the area, even its doubters recognized the value in such a coalition.

"I don't know what's going to replace it, but there has to be something like it," Walczak said.