Experts believe more people would flock to Downtown Crossing if the area offered amenities like a Wegmans grocery store, an Apple shop or possibly a Target location.
Already one of the busiest parts of Boston, attracting more than 250,000 commuters on a daily basis, architectural innovators played with the idea of revitalizing the “heart of the Hub” during a seminar Wednesday at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre.
The talk, titled “Building Boston 2030,” examined ways to revamp Downtown Crossing, as experts discussed whether or not that particular part of town is ready to be reinvented.
On the heels of the recent announcement that the long-abandoned open pit where Filenes once stood would be filled with a new building concept, panelists pondered ways to bring life to Downtown Crossing.
Panelists proposed placing more eateries, artwork and open retail shops along the walkways to jump start the district’s appeal and transform the perception that Downtown Crossing is crawling with crime.
“People have varying interpretations of the term ‘Downtown Crossing,’ but for many it no longer carries a negative connotation,” said Howard Elkus, principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects.
Elkus said Downtown Crossing needs to be an area to “live, work, play and grow” and could be filled with some of the country’s best restaurants and nightlife.
“It’s one wild opportunity after another. We need to make it Boston,” said Elkus, noting the need for street vendors and entertainment. “One thing that would be a tragedy is to not take full advantage [of it].”
While some agreed there are endless options to change the face of downtown by pumping it with more housing, restaurants and “speakeasys,” others feared that Downtown Crossing isn’t ready to be rebranded just yet.
“I think over the next year to year-and-a-half we will have a better idea,” said Rosemarie Sansone, a panelist and president of the Downtown Crossing Business Improvement District.
As for the crime problems, Sansone said she is meeting with police officers this week to discuss issues in the area, such as homelessness and panhandling.
“[We will discuss] moving people along who aren’t creating the most pleasant environment,” she said.
They will also talk about cleaning up the trash and graffiti that litters the streets and the MBTA stations, “because it affects the brand” of Downtown Crossing, said Sansone.
According to Randi Lathrop, deputy director of community planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, statistically, Downtown Crossing has a low crime rate compared to other parts of the city.
Lathrop also said 80 new businesses have flocked to the once-abandoned district in the last four years.
But she would like to see more.
“We need a grocer, maybe a home furnishing store or a Target store,” she said.