Legislative Update: Issues Affecting CRE on Beacon Hill


Coasting past a February 7th deadline to advance, retract, or postpone action on the 7,300 bills filed this session, Massachusetts legislators are now meeting through July 31, at which point they will break for the summer and the fall campaign cycle.

As NAIOP expected, several opportunities and threats made it through the deadline set for legislative committees to report out bills to the legislature, including the following:

Housing Choice Initiative

Having unveiled the Housing Choice Initiative with broad-based support in December, Governor Baker used his January State of the Commonwealth speech to highlight the Administration’s plan to spur housing production. The Governor’s legislative package, supported by NAIOP, received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Housing in February. H.4075 is expected to now move to the House Committee on Ways & Means. Under the legislation, numerous local zoning changes, including the adoption of a 40R district, reduced parking ratios or mixed-use zoning, among others, would require only a majority vote of the local legislative body instead of a supermajority. NAIOP believes this bill, combined with the Housing Choice Designation for municipalities that prioritize housing production, and the Housing Bond Bill (referenced below) are important tools for addressing the Commonwealth’s housing crisis. NAIOP will continue to work to advance this much-needed legislation.

Problematic Zoning Legislation

Smart growth advocates and environmental groups remain committed to Senate Bill 81 and House Bill 2420, the zoning bills that are strongly opposed by the real estate industry. Both of the bills were granted an extension order to March 7. NAIOP, working with a broad real estate coalition, continues to educate lawmakers about the problematic provisions of the bills – particularly language that would hinder the production of housing in Massachusetts. Now that new Senate President Harriette Chandler has indicated that affordable housing is a top priority, NAIOP is advocating that the Governor’s approach is the best path forward for the Commonwealth and will continue to oppose any efforts to combine the Governor’s bill and the zoning bills.

Wage Theft

Wage theft is a serious matter and those who intentionally violate wage theft laws should be held accountable. Unfortunately, two wage theft bills (Senate Bill 999 and House Bill 1033), while well-intended, go after employers who are following the rules and doing the right thing. The bills penalize those who inadvertently do business with a firm that has committed a wage violation, through the imposition of vicarious liability (something that no other state imposes). The legislation would affect anyone involved in construction and development, but it would also have a huge impact on all businesses. It would apply equally to hospitals, universities, and businesses, large and small, that outsource aspects of their operations to other companies or “contractors.”  The financial impact could be severe. Both of the bills were given an extension order until March 7.

NAIOP is part of a large business coalition that is deeply concerned with the impact these bills could have on the Massachusetts economy. Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur created a wage theft working group, which includes representatives from both sides of the issue. The group has met several times and we will continue to offer up alternative solutions to addressing the issue of wage theft and we will continue to oppose any wage theft bill that would include vicarious liability.

Housing Bond Bill & Brownfields Tax Credit

In January, the House passed a $1.7 billion housing bond bill, which contains numerous provisions supported by NAIOP.  It includes an extension of the soon-to-expire Brownfields Tax Credit and extends the authorization of other tax credits including the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the Community Investment Tax Credit.  The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Bonding, which held a hearing on it last week. NAIOP will continue to advocate for quick passage of this important legislation.

A potential economic development bill, an omnibus energy bill, and countless other bills are also on NAIOP’s radar. In the next five months, NAIOP will continue to fight for legislation that encourages economic development and supports the commercial real estate industry.  If there are issues of interest to you or your firm, please contact NAIOP’s Government Affairs Team.

A Little Late, But Welcome to Massachusetts, Steve!

WynnEverettIt appears that the lengthy, sometimes contentious, legal battle between Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is over. A “surrounding community” agreement was reached by both parties for the development of an Everett casino. The agreement includes:

  • $31 million over 15 years for community impact
  • $25 million over 10 years for Sullivan Square infrastructure improvements
  • $11 million for traffic mitigation in Charlestown
  • $250,000 for a regional working group on a “long-term fix” for Sullivan Square
  • a “good faith effort” to purchase $20 million annually over 15 years from Boston businesses
  • $1 million for reimbursement of Boston’s professional (legal) expenses.

Wynn Resorts Everett will be a $1.7 billion, five-star, premier destination resort with a 600 all-suite room hotel in Everett, located off Lower Broadway, at the site of the heavily contaminated, former Monsanto Chemical plant. Millions of dollars will be invested to clean and remediate the site and to construct infrastructure and traffic betterments.

The Commonwealth will receive a licensing fee of $85 million, along with 25% of gross gaming revenues, which are estimated to be $260 million annually.

There will be 4,000 full time jobs, as well as over 3,600 construction jobs.

For Everett:

  • $30 million in advanced payments for a Community Enhancement Fund payable during the construction period
  • $5 million Community Impact Fee, increasing annually
  • $20 million for real estate taxes, increasing annually (almost 25% of the city’s tax base)
  • $250,000 contribution to Everett Citizens Foundation
  • $50,000 annual payment to purchase vouchers/gift certificates from Everett businesses to be distributed by Wynn as part of its loyalty programs
  • An estimated $2.5 million per year in hotel and restaurant taxes
  • An active waterfront park with a winter garden and harbor walk will be created

That’s quite a financial commitment by an out-of-state company to the Commonwealth. In case you haven’t heard it before, welcome to Massachusetts!

NAIOP Congratulates Brian Golden


Boston Mayor Martin Walsh today announced at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event that Brian Golden has been appointed as the new Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Brian, who previously served as the Acting Director, has worked at the BRA since 2009.

NAIOP has worked with Golden over the course of the past year and we are very pleased to see his work recognized with this promotion. Starting with an initial audit of the agency, he has been acting on the recommendations to streamline operations and make the agency more fiscally responsible. We understand that he is promoting a more in-depth outside review of the BRA establishing a new strategic plan for the agency.  We wholeheartedly support such a process and look forward to working with him and his team as it is implemented.

NAIOP congratulates Brian Golden and applauds Mayor Walsh for selecting such strong and capable leaders to help him make the City of Boston a great place to live and work!

Progress with Boston’s Permitting

doitThis week, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology has selected a software contractor to upgrade the City’s permitting and licensing system. The City currently issues 60 different types of permits, totaling approximately 86,000 permits annually.

In recent months, the Mayor has shown his commitment to improving the permitting process through hosting the City’s first-ever “Hubhacks Permitting Challenge” to reinvent the City’s online permitting experience. The City also created a streamlined ZBA process for small businesses and 1-2 family owner-occupied residential applications and doubled the hearing capacity for ZBA applications.

We applaud the Mayor for making permitting a priority. We look forward to seeing the improvements to the BRA Article 80 permitting process, especially as it relates to new commercial development.

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


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.

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.