Patience Not Panic Needed with BRA

A recent Globe article stated that three months into Mayor Walsh’s term, “the pipeline of major new (development) proposals has slowed to a trickle.” The implication is that the transition from the Menino Administration has left the Boston Redevelopment Authority rudderless.

I disagree. The final days of 2013 cannot be viewed as the norm for the Menino Administration. Virtually any developer with a project was aggressively pressing for its approval prior to year’s end. The BRA, most likely, set a record for the number of projects permitted.

Given that the Walsh administration has begun an in-depth audit of the BRA, it does not seem unreasonable that city leaders be given time to properly review the current process and propose needed changes in how projects are reviewed and permitted.

Less than 90 days have passed since Mayor Walsh took office. The last mayor had 20 years to shape the BRA’s review process. Before anyone questions the competency of the Walsh Administration, they should allow city leaders to get to know how the city operates and give them adequate time to make changes that could result in a stronger, more vibrant Boston.

NAIOP Responds to Boston Globe Article

A February 23 article in The Boston Globe gives the impression that the development community encouraged the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to reduce standards for site cleanups to allow for faster approvals for developers. On the contrary, no part of the commercial real estate community either initiated or encouraged a review of the lengthy list of cleanup standards. The regulatory changes that are about to be released are a part of an agency-wide review, made all the more important by the need for this agency to be more efficient, given its limited resources.

In 1983, the legislature established an oil and hazardous waste cleanup program, Chapter 21E, formalizing the process for MassDEP to manage disposal sites. But with too few cleanups, unclear rules, delays in Department approvals, and insufficient resources, the cleanup process for contaminated sites quickly bogged down.  In response to this situation, the legislature overhauled Chapter 21E and the promulgation of regulations under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP) in 1993 created a new privatized, risk-based program. It eliminated the MassDEP backlog and allowed the Department to focus on the most complex sites.  Within the first two years of the program’s implementation, there were more than 3,200 permanent site cleanups. The success of this program made it a national model.

The MCP requires contamination to be cleaned up to a level that protects people and the environment, taking into account both the present and future use of the site. MassDEP developed conservative, detailed, contaminant-specific lists of both reportable concentrations and cleanup standards, based on the toxicity and mobility of the contaminants involved. Risk characterizations are used to determine whether detected contaminants pose a threat to human health or the environment and whether further comprehensive response actions are required.

The recent changes to these standards include some values that were increased, but also others that were decreased.  Each change was based on the latest scientific literature.  If MassDEP establishes a value based on science, does it not have the responsibility to adjust it either up or down, as the availability of new data dictates?

Massachusetts residents and businesses can and should continue to rely on a proven and protective program based on legitimate technical considerations. Emotional criticisms of every change in these standards are not conducive to the objective, science-based decision-making that has allowed Massachusetts to achieve a stellar track record in the successful transformation of blighted, contaminated sites into safe and productive community assets.

We Need Jobs, But Also Skilled Workers

computer_handsThe Boston Globe recently reported that “the state’s tech sector is growing fast, but a shortage of qualified workers is preventing Massachusetts from becoming the capital of the nation’s innovation economy”, according to the 2014 State of Technology Report released by the Mass Technology Leadership Council. “Creating the jobs isn’t the hard part – filling them is the hard part,” said Tom Hopcroft, chief executive of MassTLC. “We can’t find enough people with the skills to fill all of these tech jobs.”

These are not the only types of jobs that remain open according to this Boston Globe graphic, which shows that it is not just the high end tech jobs that are having trouble finding workers.

So, what is worse – not having the jobs, or not being able to provide the workers for those companies that are expanding? It should be the former.  Trying to create new jobs is not only difficult, but there is actually no proven way to do it.  If what we have is a gap in training, or the proper transportation to access trained workers, we should be able to remedy that.

Local and state government should be partnering with local community colleges, vocational schools, and universities to work directly with those businesses that are fortunate enough to be growing and hiring.  If we don’t fix this imbalance expeditiously, we may have bigger problems.  Companies will begin expanding elsewhere and, then not having any local jobs to fill would be a lot worse.

Highlights of NAIOP’s You Can’t Get There from Here

Elisif_20140207_3248This post was submitted by Allyson Quinby, Account Supervisor at Solomon McCown.

View event photos  |  Read Curbed article  |  Watch event video

Real estate professionals gathered at NAIOP’s “You Can’t Get There from Here” event to discuss one of the top priorities in Boston right now: improving transportation. It was exciting to hear about all the projects that are in the works, upgrades to the system already underway, and new technology that will allow commuters to get from point A to point B more efficiently.

The audience was fortunate enough to hear from Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, who served as the keynote speaker, followed by a panel of experts including Michael Cantalupa of Boston Properties, Donald Cooke of VHB, Marilyn Swartz-Lloyd of MASCO and Yanni Tsipis of Colliers International.

Secretary Davey explained how MassDOT will make numerous improvements to the city’s existing infrastructure with a $12.4 billion Capital Investment Plan that aims to make the lives of commuters easier and spur economic development. The much-needed green line extension to Somerville and Medford as well as the South Coast Rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford will make a huge difference for those who live outside Boston. These new public transit lines will deliver an option that’s much less expensive than driving, which means fewer cars on the road and a significant reduction in traffic congestion and of greenhouse gases (something the Secretary said was a major initiative for MassDOT).

Additionally, a Silver Line Gateway will provide a new route from Logan International Airport to Chelsea to service one of the greatest transit-dependent populations in Greater Boston. Secretary Davey called it a “game changer.” As panelist Michael Cantalupa further noted, transportation plays a vital role in any city’s development. As Boston continues to boom with new office buildings and other high-rise projects, it’s critical these new developments remain accessible through increased transportation options.

Secretary Davey assured the audience that money is being invested in the system’s aging infrastructure, which means the need for new transit cars will finally be addressed. In fact, the state will purchase new Red/Orange Line cars and make upgrades to signal systems in an effort to eliminate the on-going problem of constant breakdowns. Millions will also be poured into the state’s highway system. For example, the alignment of the I-90 Turnpike Allston Interchange will reconfigure ramps and straighten the highway to simplify the roadway, as well as allow more room for development.

Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) Service is another initiative MassDOT will be implementing. The service will allow more affordable cars to utilize our existing commuter rail line that runs from the South Bay Rail Yard to the South Boston Waterfront. This will open up whole new possibilities for those looking to travel from the Seaport District to Back Bay, a route for which there is currently no efficient method of transportation.

It’s no secret here in Eastern Massachusetts that traffic has a paralyzing effect on local transportation on a daily basis. So it was welcome news to hear that MassDOT is collecting and analyzing years of data to deliver real-time traffic technology. This will not only inform commuters where traffic is, but how bad it will be at what time and why. Secretary Davey announced that by the end of 2014, the real-time traffic message signs that have appeared on major highways will be instituted across the Commonwealth; making Massachusetts the first state in the country to do so.

While the planned investments are exciting, a proposed ballot question could prevent many of these important projects from moving forward. Under the landmark transportation legislation passed last year, the gas tax will be indexed to inflation in the coming years. This will be only a penny or two per gallon at most, but will provide the funding needed to ensure these projects are a reality. The proposed ballot question would repeal the gas tax indexing and would eliminate this crucial source of funding. NAIOP and other business groups are strongly opposed to the ballot question and will be working to fight this initiative in the coming months.

Transportation impacts all of us, and it was fascinating to hear Secretary Davey and the featured panelists give us a sneak peak of what’s in store for the city of Boston and throughout Massachusetts.

Climate Change Preparedness: Commonwealth’s Investment an Important Step in Collaborative Process

DB_testimonyAt Governor Patrick’s press conference today at the New England Aquarium, he announced  Climate Change Preparedness Initiatives funded by a $50 million state investment. Following Mayor Marty Walsh and Secretary Rick Sullivan, I spoke at the event representing the business community.

Climate change can have significant impacts affecting the overall economy; directly, by damaging structures, and indirectly, by compromising transportation systems, communications, and utilities.  There is no question that an increasing number of extreme weather events combined with future sea level rise require local and state agencies, building owners, lenders, insurance underwriters, and tenants to consider how to prepare for and respond to such events.

The business community believes that preparing for storm related events should be a shared responsibility between the public and private sectors. A primary role for city and state governments should be to ensure the continuity and protection of public infrastructure and public safety.  Stakeholders should be at the table with state and local decision makers early on in the process to prioritize short-term and long-term public and private responses. The business community, and the community at large, need to have a clear understanding of the government’s responsibilities for infrastructure and critical services.

Especially with New York City’s experience with Hurricane Sandy, we feel that Best Management Practices developed in other cities should be shared among public and private sector stakeholders, and their applicability to the Commonwealth should be carefully considered.

Finally, both costs and risks need to be evaluated when the public and private sectors consider climate change-related investments and improvement. With scarce resources, there will need to be a balance of adequate planning and a risk-based, cost-benefit analysis in order that funds are prudently expended.

Along with other business groups, we look forward to a true collaboration with state and local governments to safeguard all our valued resources.

Boston Still Riding the Wave for Growth

Although recent article in The Boston Globe, “Rents soaring in city’s Innovation District”, gives the impression that the Seaport is competing head-on with Back Bay, one needs to look closely at the two markets. The majority of the increases in rents from Class A, high-rise space are from existing properties in the Back Bay, while it is the newly constructed buildings in the Seaport that are contributing to its high rental rates.

Obviously, any tenant committing to newly built office space will be paying a premium to occupy the space, due to the high costs of land and construction.  More telling is the solid rental increases within the existing office building environment occurring in the Back Bay with renewals and new leases.

There is no question that the Innovation District is now on the map and is a credible locational choice for growing businesses.  However, the Back Bay is the established work/play/live neighborhood that will continue to be attractive to a full range of businesses. As time goes on, demand for space (and rents) will be more similar in those districts as well as in the “new” downtown market (formerly referred to as the Financial District).

The good news is that Boston is still riding a wave of growth and construction, setting it apart from most other CBD’s in the country.

A New Day for Boston: NAIOP Welcomes Mayor Walsh

martin_j_walshNAIOP Massachusetts was proud to support yesterday’s inaugural events welcoming Boston’s 54th Mayor, Martin J. Walsh. The day was filled with inspirational speeches, musical performances and hope for the future.

During his inaugural address at Boston College, Mayor Walsh outlined his priorities including creating jobs, improving public safety, ending gun violence, and strengthening Boston’s schools.

NAIOP looks forward to working with Mayor Walsh and his team on the many issues affecting the commercial real estate industry and economic development overall. Among other things, NAIOP will provide input on the proposed changes to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the need for more affordable and middle-income housing, and improved workforce training programs.

Congratulations Mayor Walsh!