A Parking Spot in Boston – The New Endangered Species

The Boston Globe recently ran an article, Spaced Out Downtown: Quest for parking in Boston worse than ever (October 4, 2014), observing that parking is becoming an endangered species in Boston, particularly in the Seaport.

It is very clear that the Seaport area is in the process of transitioning from servicing commuter parking for downtown Boston, to providing parking for its new residents and businesses. One of the culprits is the city’s parking freeze. With a parking inventory freeze in the Seaport, long-term availability of satellite surface parking is at odds with the construction of high-rise apartments and offices. As the amount of commuter parking diminishes, the stress on businesses in the downtown business district may get to the breaking point if employees find it difficult to find reasonably priced parking.

The most common reaction is that limiting parking will just accelerate the move to mass transit. If we had an effective, efficient transit system, that might be a reasonable answer. Unfortunately, the MBTA is operating at capacity during rush hours, satellite parking at transit stops is limited, and the condition of our trains and buses is questionable.

If we want to increase ridership and decrease vehicular commutes, let’s go “all in” and invest in a mass transit system that will be the envy of the rest of the country. However, in the meantime, let’s reevaluate the city’s parking freeze policy (one of the very few left in this country.)

Boston May Be Hurt By Its Development Successes

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Construction costs have been increasing steadily over the last four years, up 8% from 2011 to 2013 and they are on track for, at least, another 4% this year. That is good news for labor, but it may not be so good for future development. Material costs are also climbing with structural steel and reinforcing bars up double digits over the last 12 months. There are substantial increases projected for other building materials like gypsum, cement and lumber.

The explosion of construction has left some developers finding it more difficult to even attract bids from some subcontractors. After being burnt in the last downturn, many subcontracting companies scaled back and have chosen not to take the risks of accelerated expansions of their companies.

With new developments projected to start this year and next, and additional large scale projects on the drawing boards or in permitting, the demand for labor and materials will only increase, pushing costs up even higher.

What many developers are nervous about down the road is the start of the mega projects. The convention center expansion and the Winn casino in Everett are sure to “suck the oxygen” out of the construction environment.

Unfortunately, at some point the construction costs are going to make a number of commercial and/or multi-family developments infeasible. In a free market, one would expect labor to move into the area when demand is strong and supply limited. Unfortunately, our high cost of living (especially housing) will severely limit that correction in the market. The last recession brought down construction costs. Let’s hope we can find a different solution this time around.

NAIOP Remembers Ted Oatis

Ted_OatisOur industry has lost another icon. Ted Oatis just passed away and leaves behind many friends and professionals who worked with him over the past decades. Ted was a creative, intelligent, and well liked developer, who partnered with Don Chiofaro since leaving CC&F with him in 1980. We will all miss him. Read more about Ted in this Boston Globe article.

A funeral Mass will be said at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 in St. Cecilia Church in Back Bay.

Where is Housing for the Middle Income Family?

Thomas Grillo did an excellent job on BBJ’s recent article, “The story behind Greater Boston’s housing bottleneck”.

As rightly pointed out, communities have tightened permitting, making it harder to build and meet the demand for housing in general, and moderately priced and affordable units in particular. Zoning requirements have become more onerous with local rules and special by-laws, making the development process longer and more unpredictable. Interestingly, the municipalities and planners are crying out that they do not have enough control and want new land use reforms. However, there is currently a serious lack of permits issued for housing for families and these changes would actually hinder the production of reasonably priced housing.

Many communities have some of the strictest zoning in the region, with large minimum lot sizes, restrictions limiting multi-family housing, and unworkable cluster zoning ordinances. Opportunities for young families to rent a moderately price apartment or find a reasonably priced starter home is virtually impossible. The Massachusetts economy cannot fully expand without the support of its highly talented college graduates. Unfortunately, as the recovery continues nationally, local business leaders are finding it more difficult to attract the best talent when competing with other states. Economic development professionals across the country are already starting to attract young families out of our region and into areas that are more affordable, leaving us, yet again, with the risk of a declining skilled workforce.

The strangest trend to occur in housing production is that children have become society’s “toxic waste”! Many housing proposals that would attract families with school age kids are denied at the local level. More and more municipalities are fighting the permitting of three or four bedroom apartment units, or even requiring 55 and older residency age restrictions. If it appears that developments will bring children into the community, they are fought aggressively by the local boards. Even towns where the school populations are predicted to decline are reluctant to allow apartments that accommodate two or more children.

We are losing our 25 to 34 year olds at a faster clip than we are growing our total population. Our future is our young families and their children. Once and for all, we need to develop a serious policy that allows for the construction of family-friendly apartment housing and of smaller, denser, affordable, single family starter homes.

The future of our economy and our workforce depends on it.

Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks

The following article was written by Jay Fitzgerald and appeared in the July 27, 2014 edition of The Boston Globe:

When the exodus to the suburbs got underway more than a half-century ago, employers followed, and the office park was born. But today, as younger workers return to the city, and employers again follow the labor, these isolated campuses of low-slung buildings, parking lots, and company cafeterias face challenges, from new competitors to aging facilities to high vacancy rates.

As a result, owners and developers across Eastern Massachusetts are seeking to reinvent the suburban office park, taking a page from urban revitalization that transformed old mill and factory buildings into mixed-use developments of housing, retail, and office spaces. In communities such as Burlington and Marlborough, developers are adding restaurants, hotels, and other amenities, as well as housing, to compete with the “live, work, play” attraction of the city.

In Marlborough, for example, Atlantic Management Inc. of Framingham purchased the former Hewlett-Packard campus three years ago to launch a more than $200 million rehab of the 110-acre site, which dates back to the 1960s. The project is well underway, with Atlantic refurbishing the two office buildings, while AvalonBay Communities of Virginia, which purchased 26 acres at the site, builds 350 luxury apartments.

Atlantic Management also plans to develop a 153-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space that may one day include a farmers market. Already, this redevelopment of the Marlborough Hills office park has attracted a major corporate tenant, Quest Diagnostics of New Jersey, which plans to locate more than 1,000 lab workers there later this year.w

“The number-one challenge for many companies is how to attract talent,” said Joseph Zink, chief executive of Atlantic Management.“Companies need to attract talent and this is one way to do it. I think we’re going to see more of this in Massachusetts.”

Suburban office parks across the nation are trying to respond to tenants insisting on more amenities, said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a real estate trade group. In Massachusetts, there’s no precise figure on how many office parks are undertaking renovations large and small, Begelfer said, but “it’s dozens of them and they’re easily spending billions of dollars.”

“The market is demanding it,” he said.

Commercial real estate specialists say the trend in office park redevelopment is driven by two forces. First, property owners need to renovate aging, outdated buildings, some of which are a half-century old. Second, they must meet increasing competition from Boston, Cambridge, and other nearby urban communities.

Along Interstate 495, the vacancy rate for Class A offices is hovering at nearly 18 percent, compared with 11.5 percent in Boston and less than 6 percent in Cambridge. Commercial rents are depressed. Offices lease for only $20 per square foot in the region, less than half of what similar space fetches in Boston and Cambridge, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm.

The site of the former headquarters of data storage giant EMC Corp. in Hopkinton is an extreme case of a struggling suburban property. The 160,000-square-foot building, just off I-495, has sat empty for 13 years, ever since EMC moved to newer offices elsewhere in town, said Steven Zieff, a partner with Hopkinton’s Crossroads Redevelopment LLC.

Crossroads has an option to buy the 38-acre property, which also includes four one-story buildings, and hopes to redevelop the site into a mixed-use complex of housing, retail stores, restaurants, and office space.

“People are looking for something different,” said Zieff. “It’s the entire ‘live, work, play’ environment that people want. They don’t want to go to just an office park with a cafeteria and parking lots.”

Along Route 128, the situation is not nearly as dire, with the office vacancy rate between Woburn and Needham running at 6.4 percent, below Boston’s. Rents near that stretch of the highway are rising as the economy continues to improve, averaging about $34 per square foot, about $20 less than office space in Boston and Cambridge.

But office park owners still feel pressure from intensifying competition with cities. In recent years, a number of suburban companies have moved to Boston or Cambridge, including ad firm Allen & Gerritsen, which moved to the Seaport District from Watertown. Biogen Idec soon will move from a Weston office campus to a new headquarters under construction in Kendall Square.

At the 13-building New England Executive Park in Burlington, the vacancy rate is 10 percent, with tenants that include tech firms BAE Systems, Charles River Systems, and Black Duck Software. Still, National Development, the park’s owner, is convinced it needs improvements to stay competitive.

Later this year the firm plans to start a major overhaul that includes demolishing an office building — all 13 buildings were built between 1969 and 1986 — and constructing 300,000 square feet of new development. The new additions will include a 170-room hotel, three full-service restaurants, and new retail and office space.

“We’re seeing this great rush to the city [by tenants],” said Ted Tye, managing partner at the Newton-based National Development. “What that’s doing is forcing suburban properties to stay on their toes. And we’re responding to that.”

National Development, however, won’t add housing to its New England Executive Park mix. Tye said he’s not convinced that housing within office parks is a smart idea. Some towns might end up getting financially hurt because commercial and industrial properties are usually taxed at higher levels than residential properties, he said.

He added that it’s also hard to duplicate urban settings within suburban parks if they’re not near public transit and don’t have easy pedestrian access to offices. “This is a source of some disagreement within the industry,” he said of housing’s role in office park redevelopment.

In contrast, Nordblom Co., owner of Northwest Park in Burlington, is a firm believer in “live, work, play.” Three years ago, it launched a massive $500 million project to redevelop about half the 285-acre office park to include 600,000 square feet of retail space, 300 new apartments, a 225-room hotel, and 3.5 million square feet of new or refurbished offices.

Todd Fremont-Smith, senior vice president of Nordblom, said the redevelopment, which could take another 10 years to complete, has already attracted new office tenants, a steakhouse restaurant called The Bancroft, and a new Wegman’s supermarket, which opens in October.

“By mixing the uses, you have a more dynamic environment — and it’s more rentable,” Fremont-Smith said. “People are seeking urban-like amenities where they work. I think we’re going to see more of this at both office and industrial parks. People want it.”

View the original article here.

Zoning Legislation Will Hinder Housing Production In Massachusetts

In response to the June 2, 2014 Boston Globe editorial, “Sprawl takes a fall?,” NAIOP Massachusetts submitted the following Letter to the Editor: 

A recent Boston Globe editorial titled “Sprawl takes a fall?” urges the Legislature to pass zoning legislation with the incorrect assumption that the bill will result in the production of more reasonably priced housing. Unfortunately, the legislation would actually hinder, not encourage, the production of this much needed housing.

The bill makes a number of changes to the zoning law, Chapter 40A, which would apply statewide. However, many of the other changes would apply only in “opt-in” communities.  Key parts of the bill would limit predictability and add financial risks for expanding businesses in the Commonwealth. For these reasons, all of the industry trade groups in the state representing builders and developers strongly oppose this legislation.

The lack of workforce housing is a barrier to economic growth, limiting the ability of business leaders to attract the best talent when competing with other states with lower costs of living. Instead of passing this very problematic bill, we urge the Legislature to work with the Administration, municipalities and the business community to create a new program that truly encourages the production of denser and more affordable housing.

David I. Begelfer
CEO
NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association

 

Boston’s Game-Changing CRE Developments on Display at 2014 NAIOP MA Bus Tour

The following blog post was submitted by David Fleming, Principal at PACE Communications Group, a marketing firm that works with CRE companies to promote properties and help lease space.

Elisif_20140514_6876The 2014 NAIOP Massachusetts Bus Tour,“Changing the Game in Boston Real Estate” lived up to its name as attendees got an up close look at game-changing development projects across the city. The tour covered dozens of new and redevelopment projects in Allston, Brighton, the Fenway, Back Bay, the South End, and the Seaport/Innovation District.

Here are just a few highlights:

Game-Changer in Brighton: NB Development’s Boston Landing

Elisif_20140514_6950The tour kicked off in Brighton as attendees watched a presentation on NB Development’s exciting new Boston Landing project. NB Development Group managing director Jim Halliday, HYM Investment Group founder Tom O’Brien, founding principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects, David Manfredi, and others provided an overview of the spectacular transit-oriented, mixed-use project.

When complete, Boston Landing will feature 650,000 square feet of office, 180 hotel rooms, 65,000 square feet of retail, a world-class indoor track facility, a dedicated MBTA commuter rail station, and significant public space. A game-changer in Brighton, for sure.

Skanska & WS Development Star at Seaport Square

Elisif_20140514_7068At the Boston Innovation/Seaport District, attendees visited another game-changer, Seaport Square. Here, Skanska USA is building three projects totaling close to 1.2 million square feet. Project partner WS Development is responsible for bringing the ground level retail to each building.

Brian Sciera of WS Development explained the company’s mission at Seaport Square is to create energy and excitement where buildings meet the street. To WS Development, energy means retail. And, fashion retail, in particular.

“The backbone of any good retail district is its fashion component,” said Sciera. “Fashion brings that energy to the street by driving interaction between people and buildings.”

Sciera said WS Development is in discussion with several well-known retailers, but was not at liberty to disclose names.

The Skanska USA buildings at Seaport Square are:

  • 101 Seaport: located on Parcel L1 across from the Boston Innovation Center, the office tower will be the new Boston headquarters for PwC
  • 121 Seaport: located onParcel L2,the 17-storybuilding willconsist of 400,000 RSF of office space and ground level retail
  • Watermark Seaport: located on Parcel K, the project will consist of a six-story building and 17-story residential tower, including 346 luxury rental units and 25,000 square feet of retail (Watermark Seaport is a JV with Twining Properties)

Fenway’s Other Big Papi: Samuels & Associates

Elisif_20140514_7119When you’re talking about development in the Fenway Triangle, you’re talking Samuels & Associates. With more than $1 billion invested in the neighborhood, Samuels is Fenway’s other Big Papi.

Just down Boylston Street from The Trilogy and 1330 Boylston, the NAIOP tour buses rolled by Samuels’ latest two projects: The Van Ness and The Verb. The Van Ness is a 22-story, 320-unit apartment building that’s under construction and will be home to downtown Boston’s first Target. And, recently underway, The Verb is a 43,000-square-foot boutique hotel project at the site of the former Howard Johnson’s.

At the Landmark Center, bus tour attendees were treated to lunch by area favorite Tasty Burger. Samuels’ Joel Sklar and Peter Sougarides were onhand to discuss the company’s Landmark Center expansion project, which they described as a complete “rethinking of the former Sears building.” In addition to renovating the interior, updating infrastructure, and removing the above ground parking garage, Samuels plans to create a “world class food market” anchored by Wegman’s.

By adding the Landmark Center expansion to development projects The Van Ness and The Verb, Fenway’s other Big Papi has struck again.

A Game-Changing Tour

Elisif_20140514_7224Highlighted by Boston Landing, Seaport Square, and the new Fenway Triangle projects, NAIOP Massachusetts’ “Changing the Game in Boston Real Estate” bus tour lived up to its name—and then some.