As a member of Ayer’s Historical Commission for over 20 years, I had many occasions to address the question, “Why save (whatever)?” in many contexts and with many people. The answer is consistent: We “save” our legacy so it will continue as an asset to us and to our posterity.
Who would want it any other way? If we build something that serves us well, but turns out to be a liability for our grandchildren, would we want them to “save” it just for nostalgia? Would we want a liability to be their reminder of us?
Vicksburg Square was built by our Army on Fort Devens, and has been reconfigured over the years to serve changing needs as barracks-type or dormitory-type housing for soldiers, a hospital, offices and conference rooms, college-level education, classrooms, lecture halls, etc. Its outbuildings include a theater. Many people, having “experienced” Vicksburg Square, have nostalgia for it.
We “public planners” developing our Devens Reuse Plan (http://www.harvard.ma.us/DevensReusePlan.pdf) realized that Vicksburg Square represents a potentially huge asset to us, to the Devens Enterprise Zone, and to our posterity. The result of two and a half years of deliberations was to designate Vicksburg Square as the “physical and thematic core of Devens … the Innovation and Technology Center … with its campus-like atmosphere.” As such, Vicksburg Square will be a worthy legacy, something that will enhance our present and future, and of which our forebears can be proud. It will contribute good jobs and positive cash flow to our municipal finances.
Recognizing that Vicksburg Square is much too large for any one user, we prescribed that it be occupied by multiple small-scale users, including research & development and educational/academic. (See pp. 25 & 37.)
MassDevelopment (as Land Bank) requested and we gave them until 2032 to redevelop Devens. Now, less than half way into the plan, MassDevelopment is telling us that we must “save” Vicksburg Square by agreeing to re-zone it for up to 350 units of tenement housing! This will be a permanent liability for our towns, since housing reliably creates “red ink” in municipal finances. Would those who carefully created Vicksburg Square with its campus-like atmosphere be proud of it, converted to a housing project?
MassDevelopment has shown us no evidence of consistent, good-faith effort to market Vicksburg Square to the multiple small-scale users prescribed in our Devens Reuse Plan. In fact, they have abandoned their corner of the site by moving their offices into a fancy, new building in “Devens Common,” enhancing their misguided effort to “market” Vicksburg Square as a whole.
Save ourselves from a very foolish and expensive mistake at Super Town Meeting on June 8. Hold MassDevelopment to its commitment to save the assets of our Enterprise Zone. Vote “No” to rezoning Vicksburg Square.
FRANK FREDERICK MAXANT