New Twist on Eminent Domain

Boston uses the threat of eminent domain to force a developer to build on a site that's become an eyesore.
April 14, 2010, 2pm PDT | Cathy Duchamp
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Eminent domain is often an act of government taking property from a private landowner for the public good. In this case, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino accuses developer Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust of turning a landmark site into urban blight.

The property at issue used to hold the original Filene's Basement. It closed in 2007. Roth's Vornado group started demolition of the site in 2008 for a $700 million mixed-use development, but the recession stalled financing. The site has remained a vacant lot with a couple of partially torn-down buildings.

In a letter to Roth, Mayor Menino wrote "[b]light kills jobs by destroying an area's appeal to businesses and consumers. Inflicting pain on people, businesses and communities to inflate the return to your enormously profitable company is reprehensible."

One property law expert doubts Menino's threats to use eminent domain to takeover the site will work, but the idea has gotten a lot of popular support from Boston residents who want to see something happen to what used to be a signature property.

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Published on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 in Wall Street Journal
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