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.

BIDS: Taxation Without Representation

The new “Jobs bill” recently passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate, and now awaiting the Governor’s signature, has a lot of “goodies” for economic development. However, there is a little surprise for businesses who are in, or might be in, a Business Improvement District (BID).

Currently, the BID law does not require every business in the district to contribute to the BID. However, with the new law, if 60% of the businesses in the district vote to form a BID, every business will be required to pay.

What this might mean is that existing BIDs (e.g. Downtown Crossing in Boston) and future proposed BIDs (e.g. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway) will be able to force commercial landlords to pay into these districts.  If the city can convince/coerce 60% of the owners of a district to accept this, the others will have no say.  This can also lead to some interesting “Gerrymandering”, creating boundaries to capture large properties. Owners that may be further away from the core area will be obligated to new property tax surcharges to fund maintenance, security, and marketing initiatives for areas not necessarily benefiting these outlier properties.

That sounds like the situation with the current Downtown Crossing BID, and is part of the impetus behind this legislative action.  Some property owners further away from Washington Street, decided not to participate, to the consternation of the city.

What we may now see is new taxation for new services benefiting some, but paid for by many more.