In East Boston, where a development project by Massport historically brings a bit of controversy, Lowell Richards was know even among staunch Port Authority critics as a man that carried himself with dignity and had respect for the opinion of the community.
Richards, who served as Massport’s Chief Development Officer for the last 13 years, died unexpectedly at his home in Cambridge on Sunday, February 5. He was 64.
“I’m in complete shock,” said Mary Ellen Welch, a longtime community activist. “Lowell (Richards) was a worthy opponent and while he had a job to do as a Massport employee we had a job to do as a community. In the end I think a lot of times we tried to find common ground and work with one another in a way that benefited both Massport and East Boston.”
Richards was known for decades as the quiet, fiercely intelligent behind-the-scenes shaper of Boston who spent most of his working life as a public servant.
“I’m deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Lowell (Richards),” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli. “Lowell had the rare combination of legal and academic expertise and the political skills that made him a very effective development director at Massport. He will be sorely missed and my deepest sympathies to both his family at home and his family at Massport.”
Richards was best known in Eastie as Massport’s face of waterfront development at Pier I on Marginal Street. For the last decade Richards spent countless hours and time conducting community meetings and working behind the scenes to get shovels in the ground at the site. Those close to him said Richards believed, like the redevelopment of the Seaport District in South Boston, that Eastie’s Pier I project would spur a rebirth of the neighborhood’s waterfront and economic development in the area.
Once the economy weakened due to the housing crisis in 2008 Richards wasn’t phased and was constantly looking for new and innovative ways to make the project happen.
“There is no one else at Massport that has the same level of knowledge and understanding of the community’s concerns regarding the waterfront project at Pier I than Lowell Richards,” said Representative Carlo Basile. “Losing Lowell at this time is a huge blow to the community especially now that there is a renewed interest in East Boston waterfront development.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina echoed both Petruccelli and Basile’s shock at Richards’ untimely death.
“This is sad news for East Boston,” said LaMattina. “I have worked with Lowell (Richards) on many issues that impacted East Boston. I know that he really wanted to get development started on Pier 1 and recently the community and I worked with him on the important Greenway extension. I am hoping that there is someone at Massport that can fill this void.”
At Massport friends and colleagues who knew Richards’ well said his love of and impact on the city of Boston is evident in the glass and steel towers that now dominate the South Boston Waterfront, in the parks that provide Eastie residents with recreational opportunity, and in the numerous ways the passengers using Logan International Airport, come and go from New England’s gateway to the world.
Richards grew up in upstate New York and was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1969 and went to work for Boston Redevelopment Authority as a research analyst. While working for the city he attended MIT to get a Master of City Planning degree, which he received in 1971, when he became Senior Research Analyst. He received a JD from Harvard Law School in 1975 and then went to work in the Kevin White administration, serving as Collector-Treasurer for the city and the Deputy Mayor for Fiscal Affairs.
“Lowell had the freedom to be or to do anything he chose, but he chose public service because he was a builder at heart,’’ said Massport’s Interim CEO David Mackey. “It was a quality he shared with his early mentor, the late Boston Mayor Kevin White, on whose funeral honor guard he served just days ago.”
For the next 10 years, Richards worked in the private sector, as executive president and general counsel of the Mortgage Investors Corp., a vice president at Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, a national commercial real estate developer, and as a real estate consultant.
In 1994, he went to work in the Weld Administration, serving first as Director of Debt Finance for the Commonwealth’s Executive Office for Administration & Finance and then as Chief Development Officer and Assistant Secretary for Capital Resources. In 1999, he came to Massport as Chief Development Officer where he was responsible for the full set of the Authority’s strategic and master planning, as well as the Authority’s leasing of the 585 acres of maritime, industrial, and commercial waterfront property (including both land and water area) in Eastie, Southie and Charlestown that Massport owns, manages, or ground leases.
“Through his work with Mayor (Thomas) Menino as one of the principal creators of Boston’s new South Boston Seaport District, Lowell helped carry on Mayor White’s legacy as a builder of a new Boston,’’ said Mackey. “Those of us who had the privilege of working with Lowell at Massport for the past 13 years will always remember his enthusiasm, his integrity, his encyclopedic knowledge of this City and its culture, his professionalism, but most of all his friendship.”
Richards was a member of many professional and civic organizations including the Urban Land Institute, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the Real Estate Finance Association of Greater Boston; he co-chaired the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.
Richards is survived by his wife, Karen.