Walsh, 2024 chiefs meet with Widett Circle owners

Mayor Martin Walsh and top officials from Boston 2024 met with business owners from New Boston Food Market on two occasions over the last week to soothe fears over the businesses’ future and clear a path forward for a possible agreement over the use of the coveted Widett Circle parcels along Dorchester Avenue in South Boston.

The meetings come as proponents of the Olympics bid seek to advance their plans to build a temporary Olympic Stadium on land that is now occupied by a flourishing compound of food processing businesses, the proprietors of which have balked at the idea that the Olympic plans have advanced this far without their input.

Last Thursday, Walsh personally met with a group of owners from the impacted area, according to Michael Vaughan, the principal of Nauset Strategies, a consultancy that has been advancing the interests of Widett Circle.

On Tuesday, Vaughan and a group of Widett owners met with Boston 2024 Chief Executive Officer Richard Davey and a former top Walsh aide, Joseph Rull, who was hired by Boston 2024 last month to assist in planning and marketing the bid. According to Vaughan, both meetings were “productive.

Of the session in the mayor’s City Hall office last week, Vaughan said, “It was a great meeting. He gave them his assurance that he is a supporter of the Olympics bid, but more importantly a supporter of theirs. He’s convinced that both can happen and that he would make sure that Widett Circle was looked after. The people from Widett left that meeting feeling positive. They were scared. The mayor went a long way towards easing those fears.”

Bonnie McGilpin, a mayoral spokesperson, said he sought to express “his commitment to working with these businesses so they can continue to thrive in the city. The mayor recognizes how important the Widett Circle/New Boston Food Market businesses are to food access in the city and Boston’s economy,” said McGilpin.

Vaughan said that Tuesday’s meeting began with Boston 2024 officials apologizing for past “missteps,” which include not consulting directly with business owners about the idea of siting the Olympic Stadium on land they now control.

“They made it clear,” Vaughan said, “that the mayor has impressed upon them the importance of the jobs at Widett and that those jobs need to remain – if not at Widett Circle – then in the city of Boston.”

Widett Circle representatives, Vaughan added, expressed that they are supportive of the Olympics bid. “We support the Olympics. It’s a good thing for the city of Boston. When Boston is doing well, we benefit,” he said.

But, he added: Widett Circle businesses remain adamant that they are not for sale, and that their present location is “essential” to their food-related businesses. It was “premature,” Vaughan said, to say that Widett Circle businesses are open to relocating to another site to make way for a stadium.

“Too often, people drive by Widett Circle and look at it and say, ‘that old place, it’s just this industrial site withering here between these neighborhoods.’ These are viable, growing businesses. They are a dynamic Boston success story. It was helpful for the Boston 2024 folks to see that.”

New Boston Food Market occupies 20 acres within Widett Circle. Many of the businesses were relocated to this part of the city from other city neighborhoods— including the South Boston waterfront and Faneuil Hall— during previous city redevelopment pushes. Together, the Widett Circle businesses employ some 700 employees who help process and move the majority of the city’s meats, fish, produce, and other food stocks.

Vaughan said that both sides committed to “avoid surprises” in the form of revelations about plans for the Olympics process in the media. “What we’ve said is that we want a predictable process. I think we are definitely glad that they came out and talked, and we’re willing to have an ongoing conversation.”

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