The Greenway Problem

Inside the top-secret plan to rebrand Boston’s underachieving park.

THE ROSE FITZGERALD KENNEDY GREENWAY has had its share of ups and downs. On the negative side, high-profile projects like the Boston Museum, the Greenway Center, and MassHort’s Garden Under Glass never made it as far as a groundbreaking. On the plus side, the gardens that are there look great and…well, that carousel is a lot of fun. Surely we can all agree that the Greenway is a vast improvement over the Expressway, but for some its name has become synonymous with too many broken promises, too many failures.

That’s where Kelley Habib John Brand & Beyond comes in. The Boston-based firm specializes in boosting the image of troubled real estate projects. In the past, it’s managed to rebrand Charles River Park as the West End Apartments (after the bulldozed neighborhood it was built on); it  also got people using the name “Fan Pier” when there was still nothing over there but parking lots. Earlier this year, that track record quietly earned KHJ a commission to work its magic on the Greenway and its surrounding area. The first step, says company founder Greg John, was beginning to think of the place as a finished project. “The problem with the Greenway is everyone has been trying to make it something bigger than it is,” John says. “The best way to add value isn’t to build new museums or carousels; it’s to link it to what’s already there” — the newly accessible North End restaurants, the high-end hotels with expansive front yards, and the harbor now visible between the buildings. It’s the harbor, in fact, that inspired the new name for the area: the Waterfront District. It will be rolled out officially this spring.
You could call it a stealth rebranding, but John says his job was merely highlighting the Greenway’s positives. That doesn’t mean he is ready to publicly reveal the name of the local real estate firm paying his bill, though. At least not until the client has informed city officials, Greenway neighbors, and Kennedy family representatives of the plan. “Obviously, there are a lot of political factors involved,” he says.