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.  

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!  

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

NAIOP Event Showcases Three of Boston’s Top Developers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Changing Face of Downtown Boston

The following blog post was submitted by Ally Quinby, Account Executive at Solomon McCown.

Real estate professionals gathered last week to discuss the significant transformation happening in our city’s core. The office, retail and residential sectors are all growing and working together to create a true 24/7, live, work, play environment in downtown Boston.

Even with the boom in the Seaport, Downtown is seeing an influx of new office tenants who want to be in the heart of the city. David Greaney of Synergy Investments told us that of the 70 leases his firm has completed this year, 59 of them were located downtown. And these tenants are looking at more than just the office space. Mark Smith said that Equity includes the amenities of the surrounding area on tours with potential tenants. He also told the room that tenants want comfortable, communicative environments.

All these companies have employees who want to be within walking distance of work. Despite the thousands of apartment units that are planned and currently being constructed, Bill McLaughlin of AvalonBay Communities said that the demand is there because young people aspire to live in the city; we are well-positioned to absorb the deliveries we will see in the next five to six years.

Retail is growing too. Andrea Matteson of CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors highlighted Walgreens, Equinox, Scholars and the coming Legal Seafoods as game changers who have helped Downtown Crossing look better than ever. She said that first floor tenants are key in providing character for downtown buildings.

Foreign investment and continued development make Boston one of the U.S.’s most dynamic cities, and our panelists agreed that downtown is going to be an integral part of Boston’s growth in the coming years.

2013 Bus Tour Recap: The Suburban Transformation

The following blog post was submitted by David Fleming, Principal at PACE Communications Group, a marketing and PR firm that specializes in commercial real estate and retail.Elisif_20130501_0150

Three signs that spring has finally arrived in Boston: 1) green grass on the Esplanade, 2) the Red Sox back at Fenway Park, and 3) NAIOP MA’s Annual Bus Tour. The 11th edition of the tour took place on Wednesday as more than 250 people aboard five buses toured properties along what is suddenly one of the hottest stretches in commercial real estate in the region: the Route 128 Corridor from Needham to Lynnfield. Here’s a summary:

Elisif_20130501_0115Kickoff at Needham Crossing

  • Needham’s Economic Development Director Devra Bailin, discussed efforts to rebrand the former New England Business Center as Needham Crossing
  • Justin Krebs and Mark Roopenian described two of Normandy Real Estate Partners’ projects along the route:
    • Center 128, which will redevelop Needham’s former New England Business Center into an 825,000-square-foot “super-park,” including a Marriott Residence Inn Hotel
    • Station at Riverside, which will transform MBTA’s Riverside Station into a mixed-use development featuring 295 apartments, a 10-story 225,000 square foot office building, and a 20,000 square foot retail village
    • Mike Wilcox of The Bulfinch Companies discussed development at Needham Crossing and the branding and leasing efforts at Atrium Center. Wilcox concluded with an exciting Atrium Center video that you can see here.
    • In his market overview, Jeremy Grossman of CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors noted the “flight to quality” among retailers, New Urbanism, the continued expansion of restaurants, the intensifying battle among grocers, and the strengthening of regional markets such as Chestnut Hill, Lynnfield, and Northborough as key trends

Elisif_20130501_0215Bus Tour Highlights

Six tour buses, escorted by members of the MA State Police, traveled along Route 128 beginning in the Needham/Newton area and ending in Lynnfield. Here are a few highlights:

 

Elisif_20130501_0268Lunch and Learn at MarketStreet Lynnfield

The tour stopped in Lynnfield for lunch at MarketStreet Lynnfield, a 680,000 square foot mixed-use development currently under construction. Inside a space that will become a Shoe Market store, WS Development’s Tom DeSimone and National Development’s Ted Tye shared details of the joint venture scheduled to open in August 2013.

When complete, MarketStreet Lynnfield will include 395,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 80,000 square feet of office space, 180 residential apartments known as Arborpoint at MarketStreet, and the 9-hole King Rail Reserve golf course.

Elisif_20130501_0282Voices on Tour

I caught up with a few people on tour. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Tom DeSimone, partner, WS Development: “There’s no better way to understand real estate than to actually be there. The NAIOP Bus Tour gets you closer to the real estate by providing an introduction. Then you can go back and look at whatever may have peaked your interest.”
  • Ted Tye, managing partner, National Development: “It’s great to people out here having a nice day, getting out from behind their desks, and seeing some projects that are being built. And, it’s incredible that in 2013 that we actually have things being built.”
  • David Chilinski, co-founder and president, PCA: “The best part of the NAIOP Bus Tour is that you really get a sense of what’s happening and, importantly, what’s new in the marketplace.  We all know the tried and true properties, but the tour lets you see new projects as well as cases where people are reinventing or adding to projects. That’s the importance of this tour.”
  • Sarah Walker Weatherbee, managing director, Keller Augusta: “You get a sense of history as well as what the future holds for the Boston-area markets like the ones we saw today. And, the networking that the Bus Tour enables is unique to NAIOP—that really makes the day exceptional.”


While here, please read David’s important post below about National Development’s Roseann Sdoia, who was seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombings. David includes a link to
Roseann’s Recovery Fund for those who wish to donate toward expenses for Roseann’s treatment and recovery.

Grim Optimism for Real Estate and the Economy

Goodwin Procter’s Real Estate Capital Markets Conference was recently held in New York City in partnership with Columbia Business School.  GP-REConferenceAn exceptional group of speakers discussed the real estate markets, investments, and the economy.

The keynote presentation was delivered by Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and now a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Goolsbee spoke with “grim optimism” about the US economy.  The US has the most productive work force in the world and low energy and new-energy sources will benefit our growth.  Relative to the rest of the world, our fiscal imbalance is manageable. All in all, he believes that the next six to twelve months will be a bumpy ride, but prospects in the long-run look good.

The following are a few interesting observations made during the panel discussions:

  • Demographics are playing a key role internationally, especially in the US. Effects of this will be seen in an increased demand for apartments, senior housing, and retail.
  • With accounting standards likely to change in the future, as relating to corporate leasing and ownership, more businesses will likely choose owning large amounts of their space.
  • Retail sales continue to be impacted by online competition, but retail is still a growing market. The future may move towards more hybrids that have both online and storefront locations.
  • Office space needs are dropping in terms of space requirements per new job. However, there is a sense that over time businesses will start to swing back towards a need for greater space.
  • Multifamily housing rents are back to pre-recession highs and it is likely that rents will experience slower growth going forward.
  • Record amounts of capital were raised both in the public and private markets last year. With less growth worldwide, real estate is very attractive to investors.  Investor interest is focused on yields and risk management. Where in the past, “cash is king”, now, “cash flow is king”.
  • Rates should not be rising in the short term, but that is a big risk for all asset classes. The markets could wake up to a starting spike in rates that, in hindsight, will have seemed inevitable.