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.  

NAIOP Massachusetts Installs 2020 Leadership Team: Leslie Cohen to Serve as 2020 Chapter President, Sara Cassidy Moves to Board Chair; Special Awards Given

At its Annual Meeting on November 20, NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, elected a new President and Board members, along with a new Leadership Council. The Board includes the principals of many of the region’s leading commercial real estate firms.

Leslie Cohen, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Asset Management at Samuels & Associates, was elected President of NAIOP Massachusetts for 2020.  In this capacity, she will work closely with NAIOP staff and Chapter leadership to guide the organization. Sara Cassidy of AEW, who served as the 2019 President, will serve as Board Chair; Tom Andrews of Alexandria Real Estate Equites becomes President-Elect; Jessica Hughes of Tishman Speyer will serve as Treasurer; and Patrick McMahon of Federal Realty Investment Trust becomes Secretary.

“NAIOP is the voice for an industry that plays a critical role in the region’s economy and competitiveness. Our members are innovative, engaged in their communities and focused on ensuring that Massachusetts is a great place to work and live,” said Cohen.  “At the same time, we have a great opportunity to foster diversity across the field.  I look forward to collaborating with other senior NAIOP leaders to implement new initiatives that will cultivate a broader pipeline of talent interested in all aspects of the commercial real estate industry.”

Cohen has been part of the Samuels team for more than 17 years. She previously served as the President of CREW Boston (formerly NEWiRE) and has served on the Board of Trustees and the Building Committee at the West End House in Allston, on the Building and Grounds Committee at Tufts University, and, for the second time, will co-chair Heading Home’s Housewarming event. In 2013, Cohen was selected as a Boston Business Journal’s 40 under 40 honoree. In 2014 and 2018 she was honored as one of Bisnow’s Power Women in Commercial Real Estate.

“NAIOP’s volunteer leaders represent the best of this industry. NAIOP’s Executive Director Reesa Fischer and I are honored to work with professionals like Leslie in our efforts to advance and grow the industry,” said Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP. “Their creativity and energy will allow our organization to address the needs of commercial real estate professionals while focusing on advocacy, education and professional development.”

The 2020 Leadership Council members include:

Chapter Affairs Chair: Michael Wilcox, The Bulfinch Companies, Inc.

Developing Leaders Chair: Alex Schultz, Davis Companies

Developing Leaders Vice Chair: Sam Campbell, JLL

Diversity Equity & Inclusion Chair: Taidgh McClory, TH McClory, LLP

Diversity Equity & Inclusion Vice Chair: Amanda Strong, MITIMCo

Government Affairs Chair: Carolyn Desmond, Skanska Commercial Development

Government Affairs Vice Chair: Matthew Snell, Nutter McClennen & Fish

Membership& Marketing Chair: Tina Snyder, DivcoWest

Membership& Marketing Vice Chair: Katherine Shoss, The Bulfinch Companies, Inc.

Program & Education Chair: Robert Borden, CBRE

Program& Education Vice Chair: Michael Buckley, Avison Young

Awards Chair: Allen Breed, MITIMCo

Golf Tournament Co-Chairs: Andrew Gallinaro, National Development and Sarah Lagosh, Eastdil Secured

Developing Leaders Board Liaison: Abby Mondani, Oxford Properties

Communications Chair: Wendy Pierce, Goldstein Pierce PR

Strategic Development Co-Chairs: Kerry Hawkins, JLL; Derrick Goodwin, Lee Kennedy Company; Dan McGrath, Berkeley Investments; Kathy McMahon, National Development and Adam Weisenberg, Sullivan & Worcester LLP

In addition, the following industry leaders joined the NAIOP Board for three-year terms:

Katharine Bachman, Gravestar

Marcella Barriere, Google

Kevin Benedix, Boston Global Investors

Lawrence Curtis, WinnDevelopment
Russell DiMartino, Skanska Commercial Development

Todd Fremont-Smith, Nordblom Company

Richard Galvin, CV Properties

David Goodhue, Colliers International

Taran Grigsby, Fidelity Real Estate

Timothy Guy, Clarion Partners

Andrew Hoar, CBRE

Shawn Hurley, Marcus Partners

Gary Kerr, Greystar

Sarah Lagosh, Eastdil

Charles Leatherbee, Trammel Crow Company

Douglas Manz, HYM Investments

Steve Marsh, MITIMCo

John Myers, Redgate

Tinchuck Ng, Cottonwood Management

Alex Schultz, The Davis Companies

Kirk Sykes, Accordia Partners

Joseph Zink, Atlantic Management

NAIOP Massachusetts also presented several special awards to select members who have made significant contributions to benefit the industry.  Sara Cassidy presented the 2020 President’s Award to Rob Borden of JLL in recognition of his exceptional leadership, strategic direction and vision as Vice-Chair of NAIOP’s Program Committee.  Larry Feldman of GZA was presented with the 2020 NAIOP Government Affairs Champion Award in recognition of his years of work on NAIOP’s Brownfields Redevelopment Committee.  His advocacy has resulted in countless laws and policies that encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated sites in Massachusetts.

The Annual Meeting was held prior to the start of the NAIOP/SIOR Annual Market Forecast, which included an economic overview by Kelly Whitman, Vice President of Investment Research at PGIM Real Estate, and market updates from Kristin Blount (Downtown), Executive Vice President, Colliers International; Robert Byrne (Suburbs), Managing Director, Cushman & Wakefield; Ben Coffin (Cambridge), Managing Director, JLL; Rick Schuhwerk (Industrial), Executive Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank; and Chris Skeffington (Capital Markets), Senior Vice President, CBRE.

About NAIOP

NAIOP Massachusetts, which represents 1,650 members, is the leading organization for developers, owners, and investors of office, research & development, industrial, mixed use, multifamily, retail and institutional real estate in the Commonwealth.  NAIOP advocates for policies that advance commercial real estate while providing outstanding education and networking opportunities.

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.

Seaport by Foot: Walking Tour Recap

Every year, NAIOP takes its members on a walking tour that explores the latest real estate development projects in a specific neighborhood. This year, NAIOP members toured the Seaport, where they had the chance to see recently opened buildings and get an invaluable sneak peek of what’s to come. A still evolving neighborhood, the Seaport has seen incredible investment in everything from office and lab space, to residences along the water, and innovative retail. The district is 23-acres of mixed-use zoning, including 10 acres of open space, and has become a new hub of commerce, culture, and innovation in the City of Boston.

Icon Theater

The sold-out walking tour kicked off at the Icon Theater. The group got a lesson on the history of the neighborhood from David Martel of Newmark Knight Frank, and an important reminder that what is happening in the Seaport now is the result of over 30 years of work from visionaries, investors, and developers who came together to transform the Seaport into what it is today. Yanni Tsipis of WS Development discussed the billions of dollars of public investment, including the Harbor cleanup and Big Dig, that catalyzed the growth of the Seaport. He also discussed his firm’s massive, transformative development, Seaport Square, including the forthcoming 88 Seaport, a mixed-use retail and office project, and 111 Harbor Way, future home to Amazon.    

121 Seaport Boulevard

The group then headed to 121 Seaport, home to PTC’s global headquarters and Alexion Pharmaceuticals. Developed by Skanska, the project officially opened earlier this year. Carolyn Desmond of Skanska discussed the development of this 17-story, 450,000 square foot elliptical tower, which included the discovery of a long-buried ship during construction! Marc Margulies of MPA then covered the cutting-edge design of the PTC headquarters.  The building’s unique shape provided increased opportunities to build out a truly unique space for the offices, providing optimal light and functionality.  Attendees then toured the PTC office, including its incredible rooftop terrace.

Photo of 121 Seaport
Bruce T. Martin Photography 508-655-7557 btm@bruceTmartin.com 154 East Central St Natick MA 01760

Harbor Way

Outside of 121 Seaport, Martin Zogran from Sasaki discussed his firm’s work to create an expansive public realm program, which weaves together a unique fabric of residences, offices, shops, restaurants, civic uses, and hotels.The master plan is designed to encourage walkability and alternative mobility options with 39% of the total project area being exclusively devoted to pedestrian-only open space. As an example, a tree-lined pedestrian path, Harbor Way, punctuated by plazas and amenity spaces serves as the district’s cultural corridor and north-south connector between the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC). Their work will bring a diverse mix of uses, pedestrian-oriented public space, and greater coherence and connectivity to the Seaport.

Photo of Harbor Way

EchelonSeaport

A quick walk across the street brought attendees to EchelonSeaport. Developer Michael Schumacher of The Cottonwood Group and Phil Casey of CBT gave an overview of this 1.33 million square foot community, featuring two condominium towers and one multifamily tower with 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor residential amenity spaces. The design, focused on the intersection of art and commerce through the lens of luxury hospitality, will include significant public space and promises to be a striking addition to the Boston skyline. With amenities for both towers ranging from pools to private dining rooms, EchelonSeaport promises to provide residents with much more than just a place to live.

Rendering of EchelonSeaport

The St. Regis Residences, Boston

Attendees then went to the former Whiskey Priest location, which will soon be the St. Regis Residences, Boston. Sean O’Grady of Cronin Development and Rebecca Eriksen of Elkus Manfredi Architects discussed the project, which broke ground in Fall 2018. The project faced a unique caveat in initial design – the property borders the Harbor on two sides. Rising to the challenge, the latest residential waterfront development in the Seaport promises to evoke nautical themes in every aspect of its architecture and décor. Currently slated to open in early 2021, the 114 residences will provide a highly curated experience, featuring signature design, dramatic views, an 8,000+ square foot bistro with additional terrace space, on-site spa, and other luxury amenities.

Rendering of The St. Regis Residences, Boston

Thomson Place

From there attendees went to the Seaport’s Fort Point Channel, where Jamie Carlin and Paul Connolly of Crosspoint Associates discussed the future of Thomson Place – a renovation and reinvigoration of one of the area’s historic warehouses. Scheduled to open in Fall 2019, the project will include office, retail and mixed-use space. Currently home to Trillium Brewing, Bartaco, and a new public plaza, the project brings new energy to the neighborhood, while preserving its historic character.

Rendering of Thomson Place

Networking

The group wrapped up the day at The Grand for a networking cocktail hour sponsored by WS Development. Attendees had the opportunity to chat with brokers, project teams and each other to wrap up a successful tour with a well-deserved cocktail in hand. Plans are already underway for next year’s tour. We look forward to seeing you then!  

CEO TAMARA SMALL TESTIFIES IN SUPPORT OF NAIOP LEGISLATION REGARDING UTILITY ACCOUNTABILITY

On Tuesday, July 9 NAIOP CEO Tamara Small testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Cable in support of NAIOP bill H. 2861, An Act to Encourage Predictability in Utility Connections. Introduced by Representative Thomas Golden of Lowell, the legislation is targeted at addressing the frustrations the commercial real estate sector has expressed for years regarding the lack of transparency and predictability for utility connections at development projects. If passed, the bill will ensure that commercial customers, as well as new connections and relocations of existing connections, are included in the service quality standards.

NAIOP CEO Tamara Small testifying before the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Cable July 9,2019

Currently, when utilities request a rate increase, they are “graded” based on how they perform under the Department of Public Utilities’ Service Quality Standards.  Customer satisfaction, response times for service outages, and repairs and maintenance are some of the criteria considered under M.G.L. Chapter 164 §1E.  However, utilities are only judged based on their performance with residential customers, not commercial customers.  In addition, only existing connections, and not new connections, are included in the service quality standards.

“As we saw with the gas moratorium and lockout last fall, new utility connections are absolutely critical for economic growth,” testified Small. “Small business owners could not open their doors, companies could not relocate to new office space, and tenants who had signed leases for new apartments did not have a place to call home.”

NAIOP believes that by including commercial projects, the relocation of existing connections, and new connections in the review process, we will have greater transparency and accountability in the regulation of our utilities statewide. NAIOP will continue to advocate for the passage of this bill so that future real estate development projects could benefit from the proposed change.

NAIOP Testifies in Support of Umbrella Liquor Licenses for Large Real Estate Development Projects

Earlier this month, NAIOP’s Government Affairs Associate, Anastasia Nicolaou, testified before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in support of H. 208, An Act Relative to Large Project Based Licenses. If passed, the bill would allow owners of large real estate development projects to apply for an “umbrella liquor license” with the local licensing authority, overseen by the State Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Under the “umbrella license” the local licensing authority would be able to issue restricted project-based liquor licenses for restaurants. These licenses would not be subject to the quota established in the Massachusetts General Laws. They would be tied to the property, not available for resale, and non-transferable.

Currently, liquor license quotas in a city or town in Massachusetts create a barrier for including restaurants in real estate development projects, weakening the project’s overall feasibility. In her testimony, Nicolaou underscored the importance of shop/work/live to the future of retail. Restaurants are critical components to the success of mixed use developments, which create jobs, tax revenue, and community centers for their residents and municipalities.

Nicolaou also focused on the important role of local government in the proposed process.

“This legislation allows the local government to participate in the decision-making process by requiring the adoption of a local ordinance or bylaw to allow this process within their jurisdiction,” said Nicolaou. “This encourages a partnership between the developers and local government as they work together for the future economic prosperity of the community.” NAIOP was pleased to testify in support of this legislation along with representatives from ICSC and will continue to advocate for passage of the bill so that future real estate development projects could benefit from the proposed change