City Hall Plaza reopens after over three years of renovations

Mayor+Michelle+Wu+cut+the+ribbon+to+officially+reopen+City+Hall+Plaza+after+three+years+of+renovations.

Photo: Ashlyn Wang

Mayor Michelle Wu cut the ribbon to officially reopen City Hall Plaza after three years of renovations.

By Ryan Forgosh, Staff Writer

Three years, one pandemic, and $95 million later, renovations at City Hall Plaza have concluded, and it has finally reopened to the public on Nov. 18.

Since July 2020, City Hall Plaza has been closed for renovations intended to make the area more accessible, appealing, and sustainable. A newly-constructed path connecting Congress Street to Cambridge Street, areas with “plug and play” accessibility for events, a speaker platform, extensive foliage, a civic pavilion, and a playground make up the additions. 

Mayor Michelle Wu was present at the reopening and discussed how City Hall Plaza has been reimagined to fit the spirit of Boston.

“Boston is a green and growing city today committed to community, uncompromising on inclusion, where families can thrive, and where we draw on joy, art, innovation, community and dreams of the future to help us redefine what’s possible today,” said Wu.

With the renovations complete, Wu hopes City Hall Plaza will be a space to bring the Boston community and the city government together.

“The result is where we are today: a space designed with all of us in mind,” she continued. “One that represents the role and responsibility of city government to create spaces, physical community, and, in every way in between, opportunities for our communities to find beauty and joy, inspiration and connection in the home that we share.”

After the ribbon cutting ceremony at the North entrance, which was reopened at the ceremony for the first time since 9/11, Wu said to the Beacon that City Hall Plaza would not only be a place for the public to spend time and relax at, but would benefit Boston’s economy as well.

“We will be continuing to fund and invest in the programming here so that our local businesses have opportunities to benefit from foot traffic even if the city is not directly making money off the plaza,”Wu said.

Boston design firm Sasaki spearheaded the plaza’s renovations. Director of Marketing and Associate Principal at Sasaki Doug Larence said the process was“incredibly complicated.”

“The oldest running [MBTA] tracks in the city run under [City Hall Plaza] in both directions and we had to do the renovations without stopping the Green Line for a single day,” Larence said.

Sasaki also had to flatten the small, steep steps that previously existed into a sloped walkway, fill the area with hundreds of trees and thousands of shrubs and maintain them sustainably, and maintain the previously existing areas around the plaza during the expansion.

Despite these struggles, the company completed the renovations without interrupting regularly-scheduled MBTA service. 

Sasaki installed an additional 3,000 seating options, allowing over 20,000 people to gather across the entire plaza. Because of the plaza’s acoustics design, the plaza is able to host multiple groups at once without interruption to one another, making it ideal for large events. To abide by the city’s sustainability initiative, rain water will be collected and used for irrigation and water displays through an extensive underground plumbing system.

Next to Congress Street on the North side of City Hall, Civic Pavilion is available for rent by community members. The glass wall at the front of the building can rise to expand the small space into the outdoors, allowing for larger events than would otherwise be possible at the pavilion.

The pathway that connects Congress and Cambridge streets—dubbed Hanover Walk—replaces the large stairway previously there. Hanover Walk allows 26 vertical feet to be navigated between the two streets without a single stair.

Patricia Menendez from the Disabilities Commission, along with others involved with the project, led tours showcasing the new and improved plaza. Menendez believes the renovations to be important not only for people with disabilities, but for public safety as well.

“[The old City Hall Plaza] was a sea of stairs. It was confusing and treacherous,” Menedez said.

Applied Policy Fellow for the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics Amy Mahler equated the accessibility of the previous plaza to the fences that surrounded City Hall Plaza the past three years. 

“The way the old City Hall was set up kind of felt like those fences,” Mahler said. “It basically was, if you were in a wheelchair.”

Matthew Peterson has lived in Boston for five years and frequently visited the City Hall Plaza before its renovation. Though he enjoyed the older plaza, Peterson views the renovations as a complete improvement.

“It was inaccessible. There were too many terraces and steps to make it so somebody in a wheelchair could get through,” Peterson said. “I love the trees, I love the fact that there’s a playground here for kids to use. I’m really happy with a lot of the stuff they’ve done here.”

While adults are enjoying the renovated plaza, their kids’ eyes are set on the new playground—Boston resident Sarah McAteer’s daughter among them. Ever since first seeing it from the City Hall daycare, she’s been wanting to get a chance to play on it, and now she finally can.

“She loves it,” McAteer said. “She’s been going down the slide for about 20 minutes.”

Though the renovations are complete, many of the upgrades aren’t on full display yet due to the colder weather and will be unveiled this spring. Commissioner of Property Management Eamon Shelton said that public excitement swayed the city to open the plaza before all features could be on display.

“People have been really dying to access this place,” Shelton said. “[Hanover Walk] connects two major parts of the city together. It’s a really important walk.”

The christening event, a poetry reading from 5 to 8 p.m., had poets read their work on the North side of the plaza while projections of animations played behind them as an accompaniment.

More events are in the works, but official details can’t be disclosed yet, Wu told The Beacon.

Phase 2 of the City Hall Plaza project is in its beginning stages, but will implement accessibility initiatives on the South Plaza as well as waterproofing and masonry repairs to the plaza and the Dock Square garage.