COVID-19 Update: Governor Baker Announces Phase 3 Start Date, Amends E.O. Tolling State Permits; SJC Releases Updated Operations Order; DPU Begins Energy Relief Plan for C&I Customers; MBTA Announces Flex Pass Pilot

Governor Baker Announces Phase 3 Start Date

Today Governor Baker announced that Phase 3 will begin on Monday, July 6. While Phase 3 is anticipated to be in place until there is an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, Governor Baker indicated that Phase 3 will be implemented in two steps.

Businesses allowed to reopen at this point in Phase 3 include but are not limited to:

  • Fitness Centers and Health Clubs
  • Museums and Aquariums
  • Movie Theaters and Performance Halls (at limited capacity)
  • Casinos (with additional minimum protocols set by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission)

Additionally, the Baker-Polito Administration has updated the guidance related to gatherings. The new guidance related to indoor gatherings will allow eight people per 1000SF, with a maximum of 25 people. Outdoor enclosed gatherings will be limited to 25% of the capacity, with a maximum of 100 people. This updated guidance will be effective Monday, July 6, except for the City of Boston, where it will be implemented Monday, July 13. For all guidance, orders and updates related to the Commonwealth’s reopening plan please visit: www.mass.gov/reopening

Governor Baker Amends State Permit Tolling Order

This morning, Governor Baker signed an Executive Order rescinding and replacing his March 26 Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits.

Importantly, this updated order addressed NAIOP’s significant concerns with the previous order’s appeals language. In the updated order, any individual whose right to appeal would have expired between March 10, 2020 and July 1, 2020 shall have until August 10, 2020 to proceed with their appeal. Any person whose right to appeal expires after July 1, 2020 will be held to the regular or statutory deadline, or by August 10, 2020, whichever is later.

NAIOP advocated strongly for this Executive Order given the extraordinary impact of the previous order on projects throughout the Commonwealth, and we were pleased to see our concerns addressed in the final language. A huge thank you to the NAIOP members who provided their expertise and insight throughout this process.

SJC Releases Updated Order Regarding Court Operations

On June 24, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued an order further staying certain hearings and trials and limiting court house access until at least July 13, 2020. In addition, the order affirmed that there will be no further extensions of deadlines or civil statutes of limitations beyond June 30, 2020, “unless there is a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth and the SJC determines a new or extended tolling period is needed) and that appeal periods on local permits will begin to run on July 1, 2020.

DPU Begins Energy Relief Plan for Commercial and Industrial Customers

On June 26, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the commencement of a program designed to assist companies that have fallen into arrears on gas or electricity payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full implementation of the program will begin after the March 10 State of Emergency is lifted and current customer protections expire. The Customer Outreach Plan will consist of four phases. You can read the full order by clicking here. Any company having trouble paying their electric or gas bills due to COVID-19 should contact their distribution company for further information.

MBTA Announces Five-Day Flex Pass Pilot for Commuter Rail mTicket

Yesterday, July 1, the MBTA began the new Five-day Flex Pass on mTicket pilot, a program designed to allow greater flexibility for commuter rail passengers as employers and employees explore staggered schedules and telework policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot will take place from July 1 – September 30, 2020 and is only available within the mTicket app. Once purchased, the Flex Pass provides five one-day passes that can be used at any time in a 30-day period. This pass, available for all zones and interzones, is a 10% discount when compared to five round-trip tickets.

What Does 2020 Hold for CRE in Massachusetts? Companies Incorporate Real Estate as Recruitment Tool

By: Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts

The following first appeared in Banker & Tradesman on December 29, 2019.

The end of 2019 marks more than 10 years in the current real estate cycle. As we enter a new decade, now is a good time to take stock of current market conditions and make predictions for 2020. 

Experts are predicting continued, moderate, growth for 2020. Nationally, investor appetite for real estate remains strong and active in all sectors – retail, industrial, lab, office and housing. National vacancy rates are not showing signs of oversupply, and banks are remaining disciplined and conservative in their lending practices.  

While slow and steady job growth is expected, trade wars, political uncertainty and a labor shortage pose the biggest threats to continued economic growth. Market fundamentals remain strong, but such threats should be monitored closely given their potential to dramatically impact the market. 

Access to Talent Drives Market  

The Greater Boston market had an exceptionally strong year in 2019 with record rent growth and tenant demand. Boston remains one of the top markets for foreign investment. However, while continued growth in 2020 is expected, threats exist.   

Construction and land costs continue to soar, weakening returns and potentially threatening the feasibility of new projects. In the third quarter of 2019, Massachusetts real gross domestic product declined 0.2 percent according to MassBenchmarks, while U.S. real gross domestic product grew by 1.9 percent. A labor shortage, which is only expected to continue, is viewed as the single largest threat to the Massachusetts economy.  

At the recent NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, which featured leading real estate experts who provided an analysis of the 2019 statistics and predictions for 2020, the need for access to a talented workforce – and what this means for real estate – was a major theme.   

Historically, tenant space was viewed as a cost center by employers, but it is now being used to attract and retain talent. While WeWork’s business model may have been flawed, it did have a dramatic impact on tenant expectations. Whether it’s beer on tap, game rooms or state-of-the-art fitness centers, employers are now using their space to gain a competitive edge when it comes to getting the best talent. This can be seen in the suburbs as well as Cambridge, Boston and surrounding markets, and it will continue in 2020. This all translates into a rising need for new or renovated space and an average tenant improvement allowance average of $5 per square foot. 

Looking Ahead to 2020  

As we enter a new decade, the Boston market remains strong with opportunities opening up beyond the urban core. Limited supply and high demand for lab space are fueling growth. With East Cambridge lab vacancy rates now at 0.8 percent, life science projects are moving forward in Watertown, Alewife, Allston/Brighton and Somerville, as well as Dorchester, the Seaport and South Boston. Cambridge’s success will also create opportunities for well-located suburban assets, particularly transit oriented development projects with the right amenity base.   

Unprecedented growth is expected to continue in the industrial sector. According to Rick Schuhwerk, executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, every $1 billion in online sales translates to 1.25 million square feet of new warehouse demand. The demand for “last-mile” facilities near high-density urban centers is driving up values. In the last five years, rents in core urban industrial space have more than doubled. In 2020, with online sales only expected to increase, vacancies will drop and rents will continue to rise. Spec developments are expected as well as a western migration of industrial space.  

On the housing front, according to Kelly Whitman, vice president of investment research at PGIM Real Estate, opportunities exist to upgrade and develop larger suburban apartments. Suburban apartment annual rent growth continues to outperform the urban, and, given changing demographics, a shift away from small units in the suburbs is expected. As the housing crunch continues, these areas outside of Boston’s core are vital to easing the pressure and providing middle income housing.  

On Tap on Beacon Hill 

Finally, while national economic and market indicators tell us that continued growth is expected next year, legislative and regulatory proposals at the state and local levels have the potential to significantly impact the market and should be watched closely. 

Housing: More housing production is needed to keep up with increased population growth. H.3507, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, is targeted at lowering voting thresholds in key zoning votes, allowing for increased production of housing. If it is not passed before the end of the legislative session, anticipate a continued tightening of the housing market, statewide. 

Transportation: NAIOP believes that a functional, accessible transportation system is key to continued development and investment. As area residents and business owners know, congestion has gotten worse in Greater Boston. The Baker-Polito Administration recently filed the Transportation Bond Bill, (H.4002), outlining a capital plan for addressing gaps in transportation infrastructure statewide. Other legislative proposals to address transportation are expected in 2020.  

Fossil Fuel Bans: A number of communities are considering bans on natural gas connections in all new construction, which will likely halt development entirely. While addressing climate change must be a priority, it is critical that policymakers employ achievable measures that are grounded in the reality of today’s technologies, without blocking housing production.  

Cracking the Climate Code: Battle Raging Over Building Energy Standards

NAIOP Massachusetts remains committed to addressing the serious ramifications of climate change, and we look forward to working with policy makers to move forward practical, feasible initiatives. However NAIOP continues to oppose technologically unattainable and impracticable proposals. The below article, written by Andy Metzger, originally appeared in the online edition of CommonWealth Magazine on December 8, 2019.

An arcane state board, known to few outside the world of design and construction, is the setting of a furious clash the outcome of which could influence the amount of climate-curdling emissions that pour out of chimneys, as well as the future supply of housing in Massachusetts, where affordable homes are already scarce.

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards might seem an odd venue for the drama that has unfolded there. The BBRS adopts and administers the statewide building code and the building energy code, sets of rules that are important but would bore the average reader to tears. It is the domain of professionals who think in cubic feet, seismic loads, and kilowatt hours. Now, the problems of the world are before it.

While much attention has been focused on reducing emissions from power plants and cars, commercial, residential, and industrial buildings in Massachusetts collectively spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than either the power or transportation sectors. Commercial and residential buildings in Massachusetts emit about as much harmful gas into the air as the entire transportation sector.

That’s leading activists like Dr. Gaurab Basu, a Somerville physician who says the climate crisis will ultimately produce a public health crisis of increased deaths and hospitalizations, to insert themselves into the byzantine world of building codes. “As a parent of two young children and as a physician, I’m deeply concerned about this. I realize that the crisis forces us to do things that feel uncomfortable, to be pushing at a scale that feels like it’s untenable, but that’s the situation we’re in,” Basu told the board at its November meeting.

Climate activists like Basu, who have paid careful heed to the dire warnings of the world’s scientists, have pressed the BBRS to put out a net-zero energy code. The idea is that under a more stringent code newly constructed and newly renovated buildings would produce virtually no greenhouse gases, notching a small but meaningful victory in the worldwide campaign to avoid a climate catastrophe. That could be accomplished with tighter construction, energy efficient appliances, on-site renewable energy generation such as solar roofs, or under certain circumstances, a financial arrangement to procure renewable power from off-site.

Real estate agents and some builders are strongly opposed to the net-zero campaign, arguing that piling new requirements on top of existing construction costs would grind development to a halt, squeezing home prices, and exacerbating the region’s affordable housing crisis.

“We encourage an energy-efficient code, but we need to go where it makes sense from a cost standpoint and a technology standpoint,” said Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, which represents commercial developers. “We may get there, but we’re not there yet.”

Because of the schedule for adopting new building codes in Massachusetts, which statutorily follows the issuance of the International Energy Conservation Code, the big decision over whether to include a net zero code in that update won’t come to a head for another couple years – probably 2021 at the earliest. But environmentalists and business interests have already begun to skirmish and jockey for position.

Click here to read the sidebar.

Meanwhile, activists are making other plays at the local level to try to cut down on climate pollutants. In late November, Brookline’s town meeting adopted a bylaw to prohibit the installation of oil and gas pipes in new construction and renovations, which would give the market a big shove toward electrical appliances and home-heating systems. It was the first municipality to take that step. All town bylaws must undergo a review by the attorney general’s office to see whether they align with state laws and the constitution, so opponents still have a chance to kill the policy. Arlington town manager Adam Chapdelaine said on Twitter that depending on how the attorney general rules, he would be interested in trying the same sort of thing in his town.

From a global perspective, environmental initiatives undertaken so far have failed to slow – much less reverse – the output of greenhouse gas emissions into earth’s atmosphere. For the past decade, emissions have grown 1.5 percent annually, and emissions must drop sharply over the next decade to avoid the worst ravages of climate change, according to the latest United Nations report. The blight, disease and flooding that unchecked climate change will unleash is all the more reason, according to advocates, to take the necessary steps in Massachusetts to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that seeps out of our homes and workplaces.

BOARD MEETING SHOWDOWN

The Board of Building Regulation and Standards is nestled under several layers of government bureaucracy. It is contained within the Division of Professional Licensure, which is an agency of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, which is itself a component of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, whose secretary, Mike Kennealy, serves at the pleasure of Gov. Charlie Baker.

The 11-member board is presided over by John Couture, who doubles as the town of Sutton’s building inspector. Couture, who decline an interview and said he doesn’t talk to any news reporters, will see his term come to an end December 31. Couture will remain on the board, which will elect its next chairperson, according to a spokesperson.

The BBRS holds its monthly meetings all over the state. When in Boston, it generally uses a conference room in a non-descript state office building across the Massachusetts Turnpike from Chinatown. That is where the board convened on a Tuesday in early November for a session where net-zero proponents and opponents each warned of a calamitous future.

Over the course of several hours, members of the public alternately pressed the board for stricter environmental standards to avoid a complete environmental collapse, or cautioned against rash action that could further balloon housing costs or threaten the chimney and fireplace industry. Couture and other board members listened respectfully to some of the testimony, but they were at times dismissive or skeptical of environmentalists pitching the net-zero idea.

Jacob Knowles, director of sustainable design at BR+A, a national engineering firm, told the board that net-zero building makes for cheaper and healthier living spaces, and his firm found that making buildings net-zero adds less than 1 percent to the construction costs. To buttress his case, Knowles unfurled a letter signed by roughly 1,500 people and 80 companies, including prominent architecture firms, calling for the development and adoption of a net-zero code.

“Take that with you,” Couture replied curtly, after Knowles displayed the letter on the table. “We don’t want your prop.”

Board members also occasionally debated with commenters, questioning the philosophical underpinnings of their advocacy.

“There are a lot of developers that will do the code minimum, period. Period. So we need to raise all boats,” argued Jim Stanislaski, an architect for the international firm Gensler, who supports creating a net-zero code. “And incentives are great; carrots are great. But we need to move out of the voluntary into the compulsory.”

To Michael McDowell, a board member and homebuilder, that sounded like an indictment of people’s intelligence.

“The more we regulate, the less we give citizens of Massachusetts an opportunity to make a choice,” McDowell said. “In other words, you’re almost saying to the citizens, ‘You’re too stupid to make the right choice so we’re going to make it for you. Congratulations.’”

Stanislaski protested that he wasn’t calling people stupid. Then Couture jumped in to question what would happen if the highest standards were used for structural integrity and fire protection requirements – as opposed to energy efficiency.

“If we started saying, you know what, ‘We think that we should have 200-pound roof-loads, just because it’s good,’” said Couture. “There are ramifications for that.”

To deal with these knotty issues, the board had tasked its Energy Advisory Committee – which is made up of other building professionals and engineers – to “show us what net-zero looks like,” according to Couture. But around the same time, the board changed the composition of that committee so that it tilts more toward the views of the construction industry. In October, the board decided to add three contractors to the advisory committee and remove spots designated for a utility representative, an indoor air quality expert, and an appliance expert.

To those hoping to push the state towards a net-zero code, the committee shakeup seemed part of a strategy to thwart that effort.

“It seems like a big shift to say, ‘Take off some of the energy experts and put on contractors,’” said Knowles in an interview. “At face value, that screams to me of trying to shift the whole dialogue towards a more conservative solution.”

A discussion about the shakeup raised hackles among board members during their November meeting when member Richard Crowley suggested that “people on the ground know more about what’s going on” than architects or engineers who rely on books.

“Just stop. Really stop,” board member Kerry Dietz, an architect, interjected. “It is insulting to those of us who are professionals.”

According to Couture, the shakeup was based on a directive from Division of Professional Licensure commissioner Diane Symonds, who wanted more input from “stakeholders.”

“Just because we added three contractors doesn’t mean we added three villains,” said Couture. “We added people that are actually building this stuff.”

Couture also expressed his irritation at an email circulated about the advisory committee issue that he said was “mean” and attacked the board’s integrity. Couture appeared to have been talking about a missive from the Massachusetts Climate Action Network encouraging people to attend the November meeting. While that email criticized the board’s changes to the advisory committee as a “big step backwards,” it did not suggest ulterior motives or make any overt attacks on the board’s integrity.

Advocates on both sides of the issue will have plenty of time to hone their arguments. Under a 2008 state law dubbed the Green Communities Act – which was one of Deval Patrick’s signature environmental accomplishments as governor – the state must meet or exceed the standards of the International Energy Conservation Code, which is developing an update for 2021. That would present the next obvious opportunity to push for a net-zero code.

WHAT WOULD NET-ZERO MEAN?

Net-zero construction is already happening in Massachusetts, and the principle of a net-zero code is pretty straightforward: eliminate the carbon footprint of buildings by enhancing their efficiency and using renewable energy sources for all power. But advocates are fuzzy on the details. As of November, only the American Institute of Architects had submitted a fleshed out proposal to the BBRS.

The AIA plan would give builders a couple of options to determine a building’s energy needs either through a formula or by measuring the building’s actual energy performance. Then the AIA plan would require a corresponding amount of renewable energy generation either installed on-site or procured off-site. The AIA net-zero plan would apply to new commercial, institutional, and mid-level or high-rise residential buildings.

There is one big complication with applying a net-zero standard to urban development. Residential towers and commercial skyscrapers don’t have enough space on their roofs to provide solar power to all the floors below.

“High rise is extremely challenging,” said Stanislaski, the architect who supports shifting to net-zero.

One irony is that high rise developments can help reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, especially if they are near transit, because they tend to make neighborhoods denser and more walkable.

It’s not impossible to build a net-zero skyscraper. Solar power and wind energy can be procured off-site, and under the current mix of government incentives, it can even be cheaper than using fossil fuels, according to Knowles, who acknowledged that a renewable energy requirement presents new risks for developers.

“They want to minimize risk, so if there is any potential volatility, they want to avoid that, but I don’t see how that supersedes the need to address climate change and minimize our carbon footprint,” Knowles said.

Small, the NAIOP Massachusetts CEO who represents commercial real estate developers, has a bleaker view on what sort of effects a net-zero standard could exert on the marketplace.

“When you then talk about adding on something that makes a building zero net-energy, it’s going to be cost-prohibitive, so nothing’s going to be built. The numbers simply don’t work. And I don’t think when we have a housing crisis that really is necessarily the best approach,” Small said. “I think we have to proceed with caution because the unintended consequences could literally be no new commercial office space, lab space, retail, multi-family, mixed-use, you name it.”

Other areas with high housing costs have pushed the construction industry towards net-zero standards. California has instituted new requirements and set goals to phase-in net-zero construction for new and existing buildings over the next decade. New York is taking a number of steps to encourage net-zero developments and retrofit existing buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Massachusetts has made significant strides in energy efficiency. For nearly a decade, the Bay State has earned top marks from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy for its policies, including the relatively stringent measures adopted by the BBRS.

But given the scale of threat posed by global warming, many believe more should be done, and Knowles said the changes needed in construction are well within reach.

“This is not pie-in-the-sky. This is not some sort of dream fantasy idea. This is something that we’re doing consistently now on large, complex urban and non-urban projects,” Knowles said. “I have not come across a project that cannot achieve these goals, and in every single case we’ve been able to prove it’s cost-effective.”

NAIOP Coastal Resiliency Legislation Heard Before Joint Committee on Environment: NAIOP CEO Joined by Climate Resiliency Expert

Last week, NAIOP CEO Tamara Small and NAIOP Climate Change Resiliency Committee Co-Chair, Stephanie Kruel of VHB, testified in support of NAIOP’s coastal resiliency legislation, S. 430, An Act Relative to Coastal Resiliency Projects.

NAIOP CEO Tamara Small and NAIOP Climate Change Resiliency Committee Co-Chair, Stephanie Kruel of VHB testifying before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

As climate change continues to threaten homes, businesses, and infrastructure, Massachusetts’ coastal communities will need flexibility to properly implement their coastal resiliency plans. Many of these plans, including the Climate Ready Boston initiative, will require the use of fill to protect the City against the impacts of rising sea levels and climate change. Such projects could include berms, waterfront parks, and seawalls. S.430 provides a framework for these critically important projects to be reviewed and approved.

“Many laws and regulations, including the Wetlands Protection Act, were written decades ago and did not anticipate the potential impacts of sea level rise, nor the range of solutions that might be required to reduce flood risk,” testified Kruel. “As noted in the October 2018 Coastal Resilience Solutions for South Boston report, to be able to implement proposed resiliency measures, some existing regulations and permitting requirements may need modification to consider the impacts of sea level rise and flood protection projects. In the same vein, Bill S.430 is intended to prevent provisions of the WPA and 310 CMR 10 from inhibiting the construction of coastal resiliency projects.”

“Coastal municipalities in the Commonwealth must be given the tools and resources they need to implement their coastal resiliency plans,” said Small. “We believe that the flexibility this bill provides allows for the public and private sectors to work together to protect communities from the impacts of climate change.”

NAIOP believes that S. 430 is a critical component to the Commonwealth’s climate resiliency efforts and will continue to advocate for the passage of this legislation.

Sudbury Power Line Fight Could Affect Development Deals Statewide

The following article, written by Jon Chesto, was first published in the October 2 online edition of The Boston Globe

At first glance, it might seem like a simple courtroom showdown between the MBTA and the Town of Sudbury over an underground power line.

But to the state’s major commercial real estate trade group, the fight that played out at the Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday is about much more.

NAIOP Massachusetts isn’t a party to the case. But it did weigh in — on the side of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and utility company Eversource — through a friend-of-the-court brief.

The reason? Should the state’s highest court side with the town, NAOIP worries that transfers of publicly owned properties across the state could grind to a halt.

To get this far in its appeal, the town homed in on the state’s “prior public use doctrine” — a common-law understanding that land already devoted to one public use can’t be changed to a different one without state legislation. A Land Court judge ruled in 2018 that the doctrine didn’t apply in the Sudbury case, because the land would be leased for a private use. The town appealed, and the SJC decided to take up the issue.

George Pucci, a lawyer for Sudbury, argued Tuesday that this is an unusual case, one that would not open the floodgates. He noted that much of the right-of-way had once been acquired by eminent domain for transportation purposes.

But the potential broader impact was on the minds of the justices, as their line of questioning made evident.

NAIOP got involved after the SJC put out a call for input in May. Of particular concern to the trade group: The judges said they wanted to review whether the public-use doctrine should be in effect for transfers of property that would lead to private uses.

That request  didn’t come out of left field. Pucci, in his initial appeals brief, argued it wouldn’t make sense to prohibit the transfer to an inconsistent public use while allowing the sale for an inconsistent private use. This, he wrote, would defeat the purpose of the doctrine: to protect public land from being converted to a different use without legislative approval.

Words like those can strike fear in the heart of any developer. Tamara Small, NAIOP’s chief executive, says a mandatory trip to the Legislature would open up a whole new layer of uncertainty and expense for public-private partnerships. Begging on Beacon Hill would bog down the development process, the mere prospect preventing many deals from happening in the first place.

In its brief, NAIOP offered a smattering of examples to emphasize some of these partnerships’ public benefits: an apartment complex in Chinatown with more than two dozen affordable units, clean energy from solar panels that dot state land along the Massachusetts Turnpike and other highways, the pending Polar Park stadium that will be built on city-owned property for the soon-to-be Worcester Red Sox.

What about Eversource? What public benefits would the electric utility offer with its deal? The company says its 9-mile Sudbury-to-Hudson line, mostly in a rail corridor, would bring nearly $9.4 million in lease payments to the T over 20 years. The line would help improve grid reliability in Greater Boston, with a side benefit of allowing a rail trail to be built along the stretch.

To the Sudbury town officials who authorized the litigation, these benefits don’t seem worth the adverse environmental impacts, such as damage to wetlands and wildlife habitats along the corridor.

Jessica Gray Kelly, NAIOP’s lawyer, says her client is agnostic on the fate of that project. But the association’s members do worry that the effects could ripple far and wide if the court decides legislative approval is needed for any change of use in a public property deal, not just for those in which control would be transferred to another public agency.

It would be a new world for real estate development in the state. Kelly demurs when asked how she thinks the court will react. But NAIOP’s insertion into this seemingly local fight shows the trade group is not taking any chances.

You can find NAIOP’s Amicus Brief and more information about the case by clicking here.

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/

 

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.

Highlights from Boston: The Investment World’s Newest Heavyweight

Elisif_20140417_6337This post was submitted by T.J Winick, Vice President at Solomon McCown.

Event Photos  |  Curbed article  |  Banker & Tradesman article  |  Recap Video

NAIOP’s recent event, Boston – The Investment World’s Newest Heavyweight, assured us once again that Boston is in the city to invest in when it comes to commercial real estate.

Throughout the event, panelists including Charles River Realty Investors President Brian Kavoogian, Cushman & Wakefield New England Area President Rob Griffin, AEW Managing Director Bob Plumb, DivcoWest CEO Stuart Shiff, and Blackstone Principal Jacob Werner touted Boston’s young and vibrant workforce along with its high level of innovation, top-notch schools and universities, and impressive CRE market. “[Here in Boston] it’s a very well educated labor force that draws from traditional financial services, technology and a growing biotech business,” said Werner.

The city is the 5th largest office market in the U.S. and is currently second only to San Francisco in terms of CRE vacancies. While panelists made several favorable comparisons between Boston and the “City by the Bay”, San Francisco is, unquestionably, the leader in development. It has a total of 3.5 million square-feet under construction at the moment, compared with Boston’s 2 million square-feet. San Francisco’s overall rental rates are overall back at 2007 levels while Boston remains approximately 20 percent below 2007 rates; in fact, Boston’s rental rates are still considered “cheap.” However, based on the city’s similarities (coastal, hubs of innovation) and with the belief that San Francisco is a bellwether, Boston’s CRE outlook remains bullish. “There’s real scarcity in [Boston] and scarcity is how you ultimately create value,” noted Kavoogian.

Another area of comparison: Massachusetts trails only California when it comes to NIH Funding. According to Cushman’s Griffin, Massachusetts General Hospital alone receives more NIH dollars than 90% of states. He also noted how the biotech and biopharmaceutical sectors continue to add more and more jobs and create new drugs. “If you’re a global investor and you look at Boston,” said Plumb, “you’ve got all the ingredients for job growth.” And the Boston area’s hottest markets for start-ups (Boston, Cambridge, and Waltham) have experienced an impressive 318 new deals as the market has bounced back. “Focusing on those markets that are both gateway and technology-related markets has been appealing to us,” said Shiff.

In addition to those three markets, there is also hope for Boston’s Central Business District (CBD) despite all the Seaport District’s development. The CBD is currently experiencing 15 percent in rent growth. The panel felt that once the CBD integrates more residential and retail projects into its urban dynamic, it will become “gold”.

Although the panel’s take was overwhelming positive, they did caution listeners to keep a couple of things in mind: Boston has 25,000 new apartments (many which are luxury) inside Route 128 currently under construction. It’s crucial the region creates jobs that meet those rents and attracts a suitable workforce. Also, in terms of capital markets, the industry needs to start thinking about rising interest rates–which are likely to increase as the economy continues to slowly improve.

New Construction for Greater Boston?

At the recent NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, there was talk about the possibilities of speculative commercial development in Boston.  There was a consensus that we will continue to see new construction in the suburbs, Cambridge and Boston due to falling CONSTRUCTION_BLOGvacancies, raising rents, building obsolescence, and limited blocks of space available for large users.

The key stumbling block is whether tenants will pay a premium price over the rents available with existing vacant spaces (especially in areas where rents have not grown as quickly, like Boston’s Financial district.) The new buildings will have the greatest challenges in holding down rents due to the rapid rise in construction costs (with Boston having one the highest union labor wages.)

It is said that “time is money”, so a possible solution is to accelerate the speed of construction. Take a look at the following YouTube video of a 30-story tall hotel built in 360 hours (complete with room furnishings!)