C'port Neighborhood Association Meets

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Conservation of "Beat The Belt" Mural and other issues discussed at meeting

The Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association met at the Central Square Library on Thursday, February 23. CNA President Cathie Zusy told some 30 attendees that the organization has about $40,000 in donations for park renovations at Magazine Beach. She announced that upcoming meetings will focus on the I-90 intersection design project, with 10 speakers from Allston, Boston, and Cambridge bringing us up to speed about the project (March 30), and Mass DOT (April 13). The next CNA meeting will be April 25. Ms. Zusy can be contacted via the CNA or the Magazine Beach website.

Presentations began with a talk by Rika McNally, Director of Art Conservation for the Cambridge Arts Council. She spoke about the “Beat The Belt” mural (shown in photos above) located on the outdoor wall of the Micro Center at 730 Memorial Drive. The mural was completed in 1980 by Bernard LaCasse and restored under his guidance in 1995. Created as part of a public art program that began in 1972, it commemorates the 20-year battle by local residents against construction of a proposed 8-lane interstate highway project that would have split the city and demolished much of Cambridgeport. Public officials eventually joined the fight, and the plan was canceled in 1970.

Ms. McNally noted that a 2016 assessment of “Beat The Belt” rated the painting’s condition “not too bad,” though faded and flaking. It was painted with latex housepaint. Most murals last 10-15 years. The Hubway rack now in front of it may offer both protection and possible damage.  Restoration cost was originally estimated at $40 - $50,000, but a more recent evaluation set it at $16,000 for securing the flaking paint, repainting and varnishing; Cambridge Arts hopes to have that done this summer. Mr. LaCasse lives not far away and may be able to assist. Future status of the Micro Center building, owned by Kimco Realty, is not clear.

Further talks on Cambridge topics were presented by:

-- Kathy Watkins, City Engineer.

-- Melissa Peters, project planner for Planning and Urban Design at the Community Development Department.

-- Michael Monestime, the new Executive Director of the Central Square Business Association.

-- Naseem Makiya, aide to City Councilor Nadeem Mazen.

Ms. Watkins noted that an extensive Pearl Street repair project is under way. The Port Project, centered on the old "Area 4," is designed to deal with the possibility of flooding in the future. It calls for installing extensive new drains and emergency storage tanks. She also discussed plans for a public toilet proposed for Central Square, perhaps as soon as this fall. It will be able to accommodate strollers, bikes, wheelchairs, and a diaper-changing table. The proposed location is at the corner of Pearl Street and Massachusetts Avenue; the 2016 participatory budget estimate for the project was $320,000. 

Ms. Peters said the “Envision Cambridge” program, which started in 2016, was planned to run for 3 years. The first year focused on discussion of values and goal-setting. 2017 is dedicated to evaluating possibilities, and the aim for 2018 is production of an action plan. The Alewife area, part of North Cambridge, is being studied with a view to creation of office space and jobs, protection of legacy businesses, and residential considerations.

Michael Monestime discussed an upcoming City Council vote on Central Square zoning and other issues. He noted that a new Target store on Massachusetts Avenue will open March 8. Patrick Barrett III, owner of PW Realty, plans to turn the upper floors of his building at 899 Main Street -- home to Toscanini's Ice Cream, Cinderella's, and Patty Chen's -- into a small hotel. The same street-level retailers will remain, he said.

Naseem Makiya is part of a small working group studying the possibility of instituting public election financing in the city. He said the average amount currently raised by winning candidates is around $70,000, about half of it from real estate developers and other large donors. The aim is to “level the playing field," Makiya said. One way to accomplish this is by an arrangement that offers matching city funds for candidates who raise a significant amount in donations.  Cities that have introduced public election financing include Portland and New Haven.