The Boston Redevelopment Authority board is playing a smart game of political chess at the former Blessed Sacrament Church campus.
It recently approved a controversial redevelopment of the former Norbert School into high-priced apartments. But it also made that approval contingent on the campus owners sealing a deal with the Hyde Square Task Force to purchase the main church building—a deal underway to avoid high-priced condos in favor of some type of community use.
That is a good use of leverage. The sellers and buyer are already taking this deal seriously, to be sure, but this move puts it in a larger context than the passing of a political hot potato. It gives everyone—including the Norbert developers—an interest in the success of the campus as a whole. It rightly views the individual developments on the large site as interrelated.
This deal has gotten attention at the highest levels of City power. The smartness of this deal surely had a lot to do with the involvement of Mayor Menino, with his common-sense approach, and a Department of Neighborhood Development re-energized under new director Sheila Dillon, who knows the church site very well.
But only the BRA has the leverage to make this kind of chess move. Far too often, the BRA promotes projects in isolation, and its board is typically a classic rubber stamp. But here and now, the BRA is using its might to play a game everyone can win.