My Top Ten Predictions for 2019

2019Here are my last predictions as CEO of NAIOP (but not my last predictions)!

  1. Wayfair will double their occupancy in Boston.
  2. Boston and Cambridge Office rental rates will rise to record levels for new space surpassing $120 psf.
  3. Apartment rental rates will be flat.
  4. WeWork will make a move to the suburbs.
  5. Electric bikes & scooters will be allowed in Boston (and then regretted).
  6. Bitcoin value will fall, other Cryptocurrencies will rise.
  7. Foreign investment in commercial real estate will drop.
  8. The stock market will hit an all time low and an all time high.
  9. The Fed will raise rates ¼% only once during the next year.
  10. Tiger Woods will win a major.

Below were my predictions for 2018. Not too bad!
1. Amazon will pass on Boston for a campus, but leave us with a great consolation prize. [Yes and 1mm sq. ft coming to the Seaport]
2. No Turnpike air rights project will start construction (ditto for 2019). [None, so far]
3. Fed. interest rates will be up 75 basis points by end of year. [50 basis points]
4. In Boston, more condos will be permitted than rental apartments (other than the neighborhoods). [Rental approved by BPDA: 33%/Condo: 67%]
5. An office or lab lease will hit $100 per square foot in Cambridge. [Boeing office, 314 Main St.: $106.63 Net effective rent]
6. Construction costs, on average, will be up 7%. [ to date, 6-7%]
7. More than one million SF of commercial space will commence on spec. [Office: Boston & Cambridge: 1,008,000 SF; Lab: Boston & Cambridge: 1,226,000 SF]
8. The 128 office market will show more transactions (both numbers and SF) than the downtown market. [Downtown wins]
9. Foreign buyers will begin to acquire major CRE property outside of Boston/Cambridge. [No]
10. And, yes, the Patriots will do it again. [Almost!]

NAIOP Weighs In On Focus40: The 2040 Investment Plan for the MBTA

focus40

Today NAIOP submitted comments in support of Focus40, the 2040 Investment Plan for the MBTA. NAIOP applauds Secretary Pollack and the Baker-Polito Administration for the significant time and thought that went into Focus40.  A reliable public transit system is critical for sustained economic growth and NAIOP believes that Focus40, combined with the Administration’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth, and ongoing initiatives such as Rail Vision, as well as the significant work done by the Fiscal and Management Control Board, create a framework for the future.

By focusing on the three tiers of Doing, Planning and Imagining, Focus40 identifies investments that will make the MBTA a more reliable, robust and resilient public transportation system. Focus40 identifies 12 key programs: Blue Line 2040, Orange Line 2040, Green Line 2040, Silver Line 2040, Red Line 2040, Resiliency, Customer Experience, Paratransit, Commuter Rail 2040, Water Transportation 2040, Bus 2040 and Place Based Service Additions.

NAIOP’s comment letter is very supportive and encourages additional focus in the following areas:

– Water Transportation: In the current draft, an identified program objective for 2040 is “supporting a robust, multi-operator Boston Harbor water transportation system, serving more passengers and destinations and excellent connections to landside MBTA service.”  NAIOP believes that water transit has significant potential and that Focus40 provides a unique opportunity to further investigate how waterfront communities, including Boston, could benefit from an expanded system.  NAIOP looks forward to serving as a resource on this issue.

– Ride Sharing and Technology: While references to ridesharing are made under the Customer Experience program recommendations, NAIOP suggests that detailed analysis about the current and future impact of ride sharing services, e.g. Uber, Lyft as well as other technologies be included.  In addition to offering an alternative or complement to MBTA service, these companies are changing the composition of our streets and the level of congestion in many areas.  New and “disruptive” technologies are already impacting transportation and should be considered, making enhanced transportation information sharing through technology an integral part of the Commonwealth’s transportation plan.

– Regional Needs: Considering how the program objectives and recommendations might affect access to other parts of the Commonwealth should be further investigated in Focus40.  While we acknowledge that the MBTA is first and foremost the public transportation system for Boston and surrounding communities, we think that it’s necessary to zoom out and look at outside factors that may interact with the MBTA lines.

– Non-Capital Priorities and Human Resources Planning:  While it is important to have goals and big ideas to guide large investments, the essentials of good MBTA administration are absolutely critical.  The transformational work of the Fiscal and Management Control Board over the past three years illustrates this very clearly.  It is imperative that the big ideas in Focus40 do not overshadow the vital day to day needs and expectations of the region.  We recommend that Focus40 consider how human resources planning and operational strategies will allow this to continue.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in 2015, at the start of the Baker-Polito Administration, NAIOP issued the report, From Good to Great: Recommendations for the Baker-Polito Administration.  The report was based on member feedback and included recommendations on a wide range of policy areas, including transportation.  Specifically, NAIOP urged the Administration to develop a “Vision 2040 Transportation Plan,” which “should address tomorrow’s opportunities, focusing on the issues which may arise over the next 25 years, including long term demographic, economic, environmental, technological, cultural and governmental transformations, the potential effects of global climate change on infrastructure, and the development of new modal choices.”  It’s great to see that when NAIOP members weigh in, policymakers listen! We look forward to continuing to engage members and working with the MassDOT team on this and other transportation initiatives.

Navigating the Permitting Maze Course Highlights Continuing Education and Association’s Advocacy

On September 21 and 28, NAIOP Massachusetts University presented Navigating the Permitting Maze: A Crash Course in Environmental Permitting to 40+ students from a range of backgrounds looking to master real estate permitting fundamentals in Massachusetts. This course, led by VHB instructors and complemented by several industry experts and panelists, centered on introducing permitting basics, including development of an early permitting strategy and timeline with colleagues and state and local regulators, as well as more complex issues, such as transportation analyses, historical property concerns, climate resiliency, appeals, and much more.

Not only did this course provide valuable education for new and continuing real estate professionals, it made connections to NAIOP members’ experience with advocacy at the legislative, regulatory, and judicial level.

Basics of Environmental Permitting, and Trends from State and Local Directors

During the first day, students started the morning with sessions led by Kyle Greaves and Lauren DeVoe of VHB, on the Massachusetts Environmental Permitting Act office (MEPA) review process which coordinates public review of a development’s environmental impacts. Next, students received instruction on the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) Article 80 regulations and process. Over the last five years, MEPA has analyzed about 1,300 large developments, with the majority (60%) culminating the review process with an Environmental Notification Form, and the remainder split between needing an Environmental Impact Report or a more in-depth process. For developments in Boston, Jonathan Greeley, Director at BPDA, which has approved over 11 million square feet for development in 2018 alone, emphasized that successful projects start with community outreach early in the process. Jonathan served on a trends in development panel with MEPA Director Deidre Buckley and moderator Greg Peterson of Casner & Edwards LLP during day one of the course.

greeleypresentsIMG_0504-cropJonathan Greeley, Director at Boston Planning & Development Agency

Permit Extension Act Protects Developments During Great Recession

Mary Marshall, Partner at Nutter McClennen & Fish, presented the final session on Day 1 on the Post Entitlement Permitting Stage. Mary made a connection between NAIOP’s legislative advocacy and environmental permitting, stating that during the recession, when many developments stalled due to the economy and financing, NAIOP formulated the Permit Extension Act, which was signed in 2010 by Governor Patrick (and expanded in 2012) to allow projects to maintain permits so that they could be “shovel-ready” when the market improved – avoiding several years spent reapplying for permits. Tamara Small, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, added that a more recent advocacy connection with permitting is that NAIOP successfully changed the railroad-right-of-way statute in the 2018 economic development bill signed by Governor Baker this August. This means that developers will have more clarity about whether and when they must coordinate with MassDOT on building on former railroad rights of way.

Commercial Real Estate Professionals Advocating for Industry

On the second day of the course, individual sessions were designed for “deep-dives” into more technical areas. Jamie Fay, a waterfront planning expert at Fort Point Associates, a TetraTech company, led a session on the Massachusetts waterfront planning Act (Chapter 91) and how it affects development. Jamie is an active member of NAIOP’s government affairs committee and served as an advocate for reasonable regulation of the waterfront when the legislature worked on the issue and passed legislation in 2007 — and in the years following, as the Department of Environmental Protection promulgated regulations. New developments like Clippership Wharf and Encore Boston Harbor are subject to Chapter 91 rules. Stephanie Kruel, a climate resiliency planning expert at VHB, walked through climate resiliency checklists and analysis during the project planning phases. Stephanie serves as co-chair of NAIOP’s climate resiliency committee – a subcommittee of the government affairs committee.

To bring the areas of waterfront issues, historic resources issues, climate resiliency and environmental permitting together in a real-life example, the course ended with a project spotlight and panel presentation by four individuals from the General Electric Innovation Point team: Elizabeth Grob, VHB, Jeff Porter, Mintz Levin, Peter Cavanaugh, GE and Todd Dundon, Gensler.

GEpanel4IMG_0529-cropJeff Porter (Mintz Levin) moderates Project Spotlight Panel on GE Innovation Point joined by Peter Cavanaugh (GE), Elizabeth Grob (VHB) and Todd Dundon (Gensler)

NAIOP would like to thank all of the many experts whose time and energy made this course such a success. Due to popular demand, the permitting course will return in 2019.

Make sure to check out all of the NAIOP Massachusetts University offerings including the upcoming Real Estate Finance Fundamentals course on October 26, 2018. Have ideas on other courses NAIOP could offer? Let us know!

 

 

Luxury Residence Report Misses the Mark

A report was recently issued from the Institute for Policy Studies that has attracted significant media coverage and editorials from virtually all of the local print and broadcast outlets.

Elisif_20161213_5514.jpgCredit: Elisif Brandon

It’s a great story: the ultra-rich, international money launderers have descended on the Boston real estate scene, crowding out poor and middle-class residents.

However, when you go beyond the buzz and dig into the content of the report, there is much to question. The report implies that owning condos through a trust or LLC is done to hide the owner’s identity. This form of ownership is actually a very common practice for tax, estate, and transactional reasons. Furthermore, while some buyers may choose to remain anonymous, it’s rather uncommon and to imply that anyone who does this is somehow laundering money is factually incorrect.

If these higher priced apartments or condos were not built, middle income apartments would not be replacing them — the economics just do not work with the current high construction costs. Furthermore, these buildings are already paying a tax devoted to the production of affordable housing, with a requirement to provide for at least 15 percent of the units built on site as affordable or a fee to produce those units off site. In addition, the city’s office buildings must also pay a “linkage fee” for affordable housing and workforce training.

Virtually all of these new developments are built on vacant land or in commercial areas where there had not been any housing, so they have not displaced existing residents. In fact, many of these developments have been the catalyst to creating new 24/7 neighborhoods.

If these condo owners are not here full-time to justify a residential tax break, so what? Do we want to discourage retirees living in Florida from living here for six months? Do we want to tell the penthouse owner, Michael Dell, to take a hike and take his jobs with him? I don’t think so.

The real issue is that it will take federal and state resources, communities working with developers, and overcoming NIMBY-ism and fear of affordable housing at the local level to truly address this housing crisis. Rather than drawing false conclusions and creating easy scapegoats, it’s time we all come together to find economically feasible solutions.

This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on September 20, 2018, as written by NAIOP Massachusetts CEO David Begelfer.

 

How Much Are Smart Buildings Really Worth?

smartinfographicMITCourtesy of the MIT Center for Real Estate and Real Estate Innovation Lab – Get Smart, Connected & Green

Arguably, the premier commercial office space market in the U.S. – New York City – is showing signs that office tenants will pay a significant premium on rent for space in a ‘smart’ building.

Compared to office leases in the city for non-smart buildings, MIT Center for Real Estate researcher Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano (2018) found that office properties with smart building attributes attracted rents that commanded a 37 percent premium on effective rent per net square feet. The sample included 454 non-smart building properties and 223 smart office leases using the Compstak transaction database for Manhattan for 2013 and onwards. The MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab continues to research and report on smart, connected and green buildings.

Thanks to new technologies and devices, occupiers now have the possibility to measure and analyze the activity that occurs inside their structures. Companies are not focused on location only anymore; they now they look for more productive and efficient areas, and smart buildings rise as a possible answer to this new requirement.

In search of flexibility and agility, users have pushed changes in architectural and interior design to improve employee satisfaction, health, and engagement, hence better productivity.

Smart buildings are self-sensing. For the purposes of Keitaro’s study, a smart building must have installed one or more smart amenities that go beyond sustainability and aim to improve the occupier experience. Smart amenities include occupancy sensors, automatic windows, cameras with emotion recognition algorithms, and other technologies that capture and provide information to tenants and landlords. Ultimately, a smart building is one that adapts to the needs and preferences of the building’s occupants. And, in the office environment, responding to workers’ needs and preferences stand to significantly increase employee productivity and well-being.

We can predict that in the future, new smart amenities will come to market and offer commercial real estate developers, owners, and investors opportunities to incorporate smart technology in the building’s plans and reap the financial benefits.

That being said, the New York City sample did not delve into the cost of constructing and operating a smart building compared to a non-smart facility. It is not yet clear whether the rent premiums offset the costs to construct, renovate, and operate smart buildings. Further, due to other factors (like location) not all the projects will immediately obtain these premiums just by embracing a smart strategy. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that smart buildings have value.

NAIOP Massachusetts is an industry partner to the MIT Center for Real Estate. Alfredo Keitaro Bando Hano wrote The Incremental Value of Smart Buildings Upon Effective Rents and Transaction Prices (2018) as a master’s thesis.

For more information about the MIT Center for Real Estate’s research, please go to: https://mitcre.mit.edu/ or to the MIT REILab:  http://realestateinnovationlab.mit.edu/

 

NAIOP Event Showcases Three of Boston’s Top Developers

This post comes from BLDUP (bldup.com) reporting on the NAIOP Massachusetts event on September 13, 2018: Development Unicorns: Neighborhood Game Changers.

Elisif_20180913_2045See photos from Development Unicorns: Neighborhood Game Changers. Credit: Elisif Brandon

The developers of three of Boston’s most changed neighborhoods, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Seaport Square came together last week for NAIOP’s panel discussion, Development Unicorns. If the catchy title didn’t grab your attention the insight provided by these forward-thinking developers certainly will. The event opened with a keynote from David P. Manfredi, Elkus Manfredi Architects, that highlighted the 8 Place Making Principles these neighborhoods have in common.  Mr. Manfredi also spoke about the important changes at work in each of these neighborhoods; public investment in infrastructure, skillful placemaking, flexibility and evolution along with density and walkability.  While the architecture of each area is different they all share these characteristics which have played a large role in the success of the projects.

After Mr. Manfredi’s introduction, the expert panel took the stage moderated by Sara Cassidy of AEW Capital Management.  Representing Federal Realty Investment Trust, the minds behind Assembly Row, was Donald Briggs, Executive VP of Development. Mr. Briggs mentioned that as a realty investment trust Federal Realty had the large balance sheet to a take risk on a piece of land in Somerville that had been tied up in a 6-year lawsuit.  He also discussed how the Assembly Row site is much closer to Boston than many people originally realized making it a great location for a development opportunity.

Steve Samuels, Chairman & Principal at Samuels & Associates discussed how his company “stumbled” into the Fenway neighborhood as it was being held hostage by Fenway Park.  His team had to convince people one use at a time to come to Fenway for something other than baseball. The final panelist was Yanni Tsipis, Senior VP-Seaport at WS Development.  WS has been involved in the Seaport since 2006 when it was just a wide open lot with great water views. Mr. Tsipis noted this blank slate provided an interesting opportunity for the development team and once momentum swung in their direction his team decided to triple down and buy out their remaining partners in the Seaport Square area.

The developers had their own story to tell on how the pieces of each neighborhood came together.  The Fenway, Mr. Samuels mentioned, was already a great neighborhood but it had no core. His team worked to build relationships with stakeholders in the area and then began to buy up lots one at a time.  They then rezoned each lot, again piece by piece, leading to a very slow process. Assembly Row also started off slow, as Federal Realty stepped into a deal that had been stalled with that 6-year lawsuit.  However, settling the lawsuit did have a positive outcome as Mr. Briggs pointed out, it pushed his team into embracing office space. Although not part of their original plans the offices turned out to be a very positive driver of growth.  In the Seaport it was very important for WS Development to ensure the area developed a sense of place very early on in the process. As Mr. Tsipis pointed out the neighborhood is still growing, with only about ⅓ of the planned construction now complete.

Other key points echoed across the panel were the importance of responsiveness to the market and also ensuring public realms and first floor retails spaces are unique and inviting to the neighborhood. Mr. Briggs suggested it is always prudent to entitle more square footage which allows for flexibility and optionality.  Federal Realty sacrificed density at the beginning of their project to build on a horizontal context and are now moving to build high rise projects. In the Fenway, The Samuels team had to find the right balance between old and new architecture.  Ultimately their goal for the area is to be ⅓ office, ⅓ residential, ⅓ retail but as Mr. Samuels quickly mentioned the market will drive these decisions.

In Seaport Square, WS has devoted time and energy to planning the public spaces and also programming around these areas as these events organically bring people together.  Mr. Briggs agreed, pointing out that he believes creating fabric in architecture, space between buildings is more important than buildings themselves.

When discussing retail spaces all agreed it was most important to get the first floor spaces right to command a premium above. With the continued success of these three neighborhoods, the insights from the panel were certainly valuable as the city’s development boom continues.

 

20 years later, Brownfields Act remains a pioneering policy

This op-ed originally appeared in Viewpoint on bizjournals.com on September 13, 2018. The joint op-ed was authored by Ned Abelson, attorney at Goulston & Storrs and co-chair of the NAIOP Brownfields Committee, and by David Begelfer, NAIOP Massachusetts CEO and an active participant in the passage of the Brownfields Act. 

Twenty years ago this summer, Gov. Paul Cellucci signed into law the “Brownfields Act,” establishing new incentives and protections to encourage parties to clean up and redevelop contaminated property in Massachusetts. This law provides comprehensive liability relief and financial incentives to attract new investment in these properties while ensuring a safe and effective cleanup. Simply put, without the passage of the Brownfields Act, many communities that are now thriving would be filled with vacant and contaminated properties.

Suburban Office Park

A Brownfield site is blocked from productive use because of potentially hazardous contaminants. Prior to the passage of this law, developers considering cleaning up and then redeveloping such a property often concluded the effort was simply too risky, too expensive and too time-consuming to offset future profits from leasing the property to retailers, businesses and residents.

A model for states across the country, the Brownfields Act allows innocent Massachusetts real estate owners and operators to apply to the Department of Revenue for a state income tax credit to offset the net cost of the cleanup. Any party that contaminated a property or owned the property at the time of contamination is not eligible for the tax credit. Depending on the extent of the completed cleanup, the taxpayer may apply for a credit equal to either 25 percent or 50 percent of the cleanup cost. If the site has an Activity and Use Limitation, or AUL — typically a use restriction placed on title as part of the cleanup process — then a 25 percent credit would apply; if no AUL, then eligibility increases to 50 percent. Without this tax credit, many contaminated properties would remain a public health risk and there would be no incentive to clean up and return these sites to productive use.

The credits have provided critical additional funding for community development corporations, or CDCs, and other community-based organizations. And a change to the law in 2006 has helped nonprofit organizations, which were previously not able to use all of their credits, to sell or transfer the credits to others. In recent years, the state Department of Revenue has distributed between $28 million and $61 million annually in Brownfields tax credits, benefitting between 40 and 80 development projects each year.

The Brownfields Act was created through a unique collaboration of Massachusetts policymakers and a truly diverse set of stakeholders. Developers, town officials, environmentalists, business association representatives, scientists and many others spent hundreds of hours negotiating the details of this landmark legislation.

For Massachusetts residents and businesses, the benefits have been significant. By cleaning up these sites, public health conditions improved, local communities were revitalized, housing was built in vacant areas, new jobs were created, and municipal real estate tax revenue grew. For developers and their partners in engineering, construction and architecture, redeveloping a former industrial site no longer posed a financial or legal death sentence.

For a very modest investment by the commonwealth, billions of dollars of investments have been made throughout the state, benefitting its citizens and municipalities. We commend the Legislature’s work this session to provide for a five-year extension of the Brownfields tax credit in the Housing Bond bill, signed by Gov. Baker on May 31. Twenty years later, the Brownfields Act’s approach to economic development and public health policy continues to be bipartisan, beneficial, bold and, most important, very successful.