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Build a better Boston by opening doors to Parkman House still wider

What a difference four years can make, particularly in the topsy-turvy Boston municipal arena. Back in May 1980, city councilor Raymond L. Flynn was all for selling the Parkman House, the city's early-19th-century mansion. Now, as mayor, such an idea appears to be furthest from his thoughts.

Instead, Mayor Flynn is determined to make the Parkman House an asset to be shared by all the people of Boston. Within days of taking over the city's executive reins, Flynn opened the almost-private enclave of former Mayor Kevin H. White to neighborhood groups, individuals, and business organizations.

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During the past five months more than 2,200 people have visited the four-story brick house overlooking Boston Common - a number that may exceed the visitor total since the mansion was bequeathed to the city in 1908.

The 16-room Parkman House was renovated in 1972 for almost $600,000, a substantial portion of which came from taxpayer money. Since Flynn became mayor last January he has found the building, situated a few blocks from City Hall, an ideal place for private huddles.

But, under this administration, the building has not become Flynn's exclusive preserve. Groups savoring a bit of hospitality at the tastefully restored, 145 -year-old home include the Boys and Girls Clubs, the League of Women Voters, the City Council, and members of the Boston delegation in the state legislature. The state lawmakers must have found the Parkman House - just two doors from the State House - particularly convenient.

Now the Flynn administration is shaping guidelines for using the Parkman House. While it's uncertain what the regulations will include, policymaker Rosemary Sansone at the city's Office of Business and Cultural Affairs should not neglect ways to put the house on a more solid financial foundation.

Although it's unrealistic to expect the mansion to become a moneymaker for the city, its rental for private functions (as the schedule permits) might help meet all operating and maintenance costs. Such rentals, however, should not be at the expense of neighborhood, civic, or philanthropic groups that need the facility for meetings. City agencies, too, should have use of the Parkman House for functions.

Unlike Boston, the commonwealth has no meeting facilities in a relaxed, residential setting. The governor has no place to entertain visiting dignitaries within the capitol or anywhere else. The Parkman House, because of its location and home-like atmosphere, would make an ideal Massachusetts governor's mansion, something many other states have.

In the early 1970s, the commonwealth had the option to acquire a large home and estate in Dedham for a gubernatorial residence. But because of the estate's heavy restoration cost and distance from the State House, Gov. Francis W. Sargent passed up the proposal.

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If Massachusetts ever acquires a governor's mansion, something on Beacon Hill (or within walking distance to the State House) would make sense. If it became available, the Parkman House might be hard to pass up.

But that lovely residence is not for sale, nor should it be - despite suggestions to the contrary from the Boston Finance Commission and others. Even if fees were charged to most of those using the Parkman House, it probably could not be a major moneymaker.

The Flynn administration is not about to abandon its goal of opening the Parkman House to as many as can put it to good use. ''It is our symbol of goodwill, our open door to the neighborhoods,'' says Miss Sansone.

Her position in favor of keeping the Parkman House is not new. In 1980, when both she and Flynn were city councilors, she opposed an attempt to force Mayor White to sell the building and use the proceeds to fund the city's parkland maintenance.

Terms of the will by which George F. Parkman bequeathed his residence to the city specify that all revenue generated by it and the accompanying trust fund be used exclusively for maintaining the Boston Common, Public Garden, and other parklands owned by the city as of 1877. Boston in effect rents the mansion from itself for $15,701 a year. On top of that are utility and maintenance costs, which amounted to $35,000 last year.

The rental payments to the Parkman fund could be much greater if the mansion produced some income. One possibility might be negotiating a joint-use agreement with the commonwealth. This would give the state a place for the governor to entertain important guests and hold meetings with aides, community leaders, and other groups.

Any revenue derived from the Parkman House not only might pay full upkeep on the building but also pour additional dollars into the city treasury for a better-maintained Boston Common, which fronts both the State House and the Parkman House.

The extra dollars could be used to repave cracked walks, improve lawn care, plant new trees and shrubs where needed, and spruce up the frog pond. Neighborhood parks and playgrounds, too, might benefit. Some of the dollars now used on the common and Public Garden could be spent for other parks-related purposes.

Mayor Flynn could start by forming a special study panel with representatives from his administration, the business community, civic interest, and the city's neighborhoods to help draw up a bleuprint for best use of the Parkman House and improvement of Boston parks. These two goals go hand-in-hand toward a better Boston for all.

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