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Menino Threatens Eminent Domain For Downtown Crossing Site

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is considering using eminent domain to take over the stalled Filene's Basement development property at Downtown Crossing.

The move comes after Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, was quoted in an article in The New York Observer explaining how he sat on a similar vacant property in New York City for years in order to squeeze more subsidies from the city.

In response, Boston's mayor on Monday penned a searing letter (PDF) to Roth. In it, Menino wrote that "the quotes attributed to you (in the article) on this subject are simply outrageous" and that "deliberately perpetuating blight" is "reprehensible." The mayor wrote that the Filene's site would not be used as a "bargaining chip" to improve the realty trust's bottom line.

Vornado has previously cited problems borrowing money to explain the delay in construction.

Speaking to WBUR Tuesday, John Palmieri, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, echoed Menino's frustration.

"If Mr. Roth and Vornado are doing this as a deliberate policy, to create blight so that local and state government responds, I think he's making a terrible mistake," Palmieri said. "It's a pretty cynical move."

Palmieri said the city would not give Vornado additional aid to build, and that the city is considering taking the property under eminent domain.

"Because if the developer is uninterested in moving forward with the plan, then that becomes an option that we can't exercise," he said. "So the alternative option is to take the property."

Another option for the city, Palmieri says, is to allow the developer permits to expire in August.

"In doing that, I think we'd make it clear that they'd have to begin from step one again," Palmieri said. "And that might encourage them to find someone who can develop or to take action to get it developed."

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government must provide just compensation when taking private property by virtue of eminent domain.

Vornado did not return calls for comment.

WBUR's Brent Baughman compiled this report.

This program aired on March 9, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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