Franklin St. plaza opens; called ‘trial’ to see if it works

The Boston Transportation Department on Tuesday opened a newly built public plaza in Downtown Crossing.

“We are creating a space that is a new front-door,” Chris Osgood, the city’s chief of streets, said during the opening ceremony for the plaza at Tontine Crescent. “This will be a new plaza for everybody to enjoy. Our streets are not just places that connect neighborhoods, they also connect neighbors.”

In early August, traffic barriers were erected along a swath of Franklin Street, beginning at Arch Street and culminating at the Millenium Tower plaza, reducing traffic to one lane. The barriers were part of a temporary trial to study new traffic patterns that would arise from the lane reduction.

Now, the barriers are bordered by a new bright green bike lane that surrounds public art, seating space and potted plants. Last summer, a less developed version of the new plaza appeared on the road for one day as a pop-up concept, where locals could come sit and enjoy the space while engineers observed the plausibility of such an installation.

One year later, the city has teamed up with the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID) Corporation and Millenium Partners for the construction of the plaza. Despite this being the second iteration of the public space, it is not final. City officials are calling this a temporary plaza with the potential to become permanent in two years.

Joe Larkin, Millenium Partners’ local principal, said that it will serve as “an interim plan to see if all the logistics work out. If it passes the test, we would love to go permanent.”

Rosemarie Sansone, formerly a member of the Boston City Council, now serves as president and CEO of the Downtown Boston BID. To her, BID’s involvement in the development of the plaza represents a much larger goal.

“Whenever you add activity to any block in the city, where people can sit and enjoy, you activate the space,” Sansone said. “This is not only a trial for Tontine Crescent, it’s a trial for the city. It’s the first step of many.”

Also of importance to the city and its collaborators is the impact the plaza will have on local business.

“Hopefully this is only the beginning of how we work together with the community to grow,” said Transportation Department commissioner Gina Fiandaca. “This plaza reimagines our streetscape, and the work done to harness the support of the community was an important part of the process.”

Among the businesses flanking the plaza on the sidewalk is The Merchant Restaurant. General manager Tena Reynolds used the opening ceremony as an opportunity to give out samples of iced coffee and tea.

“This is just amazing,” Reynolds said. “It’s nice to see the street finally getting the attention it deserves. I have nothing but high hopes for its success.”

As city officials and private collaborators addressed the public, Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter, Bella, made her way back and forth from the store to one of the plaza’s tables with cups of iced tea. When asked about the new public space, she smiled and said, “It’s so pretty.”