Office Space: Dead on Arrival or a New Frontier?

Tenants Are Getting a Crash Course in Remote Work’s Pluses and Minuses

Written by: Tamara Small | This article was originally published by Banker & Tradesman on October 4, 2020

As we approach the seven–month mark since the state of emergency was declared and office workers transitioned to Work from Home (WFH) overnight, many people are asking the same question: Will workers return to the office?  

A review of statistics paints a bleak picture. Office sublease space is at a record high. Occupancy rates in Boston and Cambridge remain in the single digits, while in the suburbs, it’s about a 10 percent occupancy rate. Companies that once said they would come back after Labor Day are now pushing tentative return dates out to January or well into 2021. We have seen the largest quarterly increase in vacancy rates since the fourth quarter of 2001.  

Given the uncertainty about what is to come, few transactions are happening. Rents are beginning to drop and short–term leases, once unheard of, are becoming much more common. Small businesses that support office workers from dry cleaners, to sandwich shops, to shoemakers remain closed. The economic impact cannot be overstated.  

Eric Rosengren, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, recently commented on the impact of so many empty office buildings.  

“It’s going to be very difficult for Massachusetts to fully recover until Boston fully recovers,” he said. “And a full recovery in Boston requires people to occupy the office buildings we have downtown.” 

However, we are now starting to see more people return, slowly, but surely, to their offices. And, when there is a vaccine, and children return to school and daycare, and commuters get back on public transit, as an industry we will have a unique opportunity to use what we have learned during this time to make offices better than ever. But what do we do in the meantime? 

While only 4 in 10 Americans can work from home, for those who have that privilege, the overnight transition to WFH was fairly seamless. Many companies who had never offered WFH as an option realized that work can, and will, get done remotely. Technology experts have become the glue that holds the office together – constantly adapting and innovating to accommodate cybersecurity, equity and access challenges.  

Tenants Discover Downsides 

There is a lot of positive that came out of this overnight shift. Several studies show that by eliminating commutes, some workers have gained invaluable personal time. Traffic congestion in our cities has improved dramatically, and many municipalities are expanding their alternative transit options, adding bike lanes and expanding walking paths to encourage outdoor activity. 

However, the longer WFH continues, the more we start to hear about its negative impacts.  

First, the boundaries between work and home have blurred. People are working more, and they are exhausted.  

Second, onboarding and mentorship are suffering. Bringing a new person onto a team that is completely remote is extremely challenging, as is mentoring a more junior employee or intern.  

Third, and most importantly, the collaboration and personal connections that shape successful office culture are difficult to replicate in a remote world. Remote work prevents learning by osmosis and diminishes opportunities for teamwork by eliminating those invaluable five-minute conversations that engage people across teams and disciplines. This has a significant impact on employees, particularly those new to the workforce.  

A recent study of employers by MassDOT/MBTA shows that very few companies plan to switch to WFH entirely when the world returns to “normal”:  52 percent of employers surveyed will send all employees back to the office;  41 percent will send some employees; and only 3 percent will remain full-time WFH.  

Embrace Office Innovation 

Clearly, employees will come back to the office, but work from home is here to stay. People want flexibility, but also some human interaction and collaboration. Are our office spaces ready to rise to the challenge? In short, yes. I predict employers will increasingly adopt a hybrid model that includes some remote and some in–person days. This means a total revision of what office space looks like, how it works, and how employees interact.   

A new and revived office sector will include an increased focus on wellness, collaboration, technology, and community. These components are critical as space becomes more fluid and flexible.  

At a recent NAIOP event, a panel of local experts shared what they are already beginning to see for the future of the office. Elizabeth Lowrey of Elkus Manfredi said, “the days of stack–and–pack are over.” Vickie Alani of CBT shared that we will likely see home offices remain dedicated spaces for focused work, while office spaces will be designed to enable remote and in–person collaboration. Kimberly Smith of Knoll focused on the enhanced role of technology to ensure that people at home and at the office “have an equitable experience in their office interactions.” And moderator Lauren Vecchione of Colliers Boston summed it up with the following statement: “If you take anything away from the discussion today, it should be that employees will come back to the office.” 

So, while the next few months may be a challenge, now is not the time to ring the death knell for the office sector. Instead, it’s time for CRE to embrace innovation and give the people what they want – a new and improved office for the next generation, today.

Optimism Colors Shifting Views of Development Market

Biotech Could Benefit From Open Office Space

Written By: Colin A. Young

This article was originally published by The State House News on September 15, 2020.

SEPT. 15, 2020…..Commercial real estate and development experts said they are confident that the pandemic won’t spell the end of the development boom in and around Boston, but they said they are keeping their eyes on consumer and workforce trends that might reshape their industry.

During a virtual panel convened by NAOIP Massachusetts, the development pros said that while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed construction timelines and injected generous doses of uncertainty into the equation, development still has plenty of track in front of it in the Boston region.

“We operate between Boston and Washington, D.C., and I think that Boston is clearly the strongest market of those three and maybe the strongest market in the country,” Shawn Hurley, president of Marcus Partners said, referring to the Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., markets. “It certainly seems that development in this market remains really strong and that our economy is more diversified than ever before. So we feel very good about the Boston market and how we’re positioned today, albeit in a very volatile world and as we enter what appears to be a potentially very volatile fall.”

Lauren O’Neil, senior managing director at JLL Capital Markets, said she doesn’t foresee a persistent slowdown in development in the Boston area. After desirable long-term investment-grade tenant leases, she said development appears to be second on the investment strategy depth chart.

“I think the thesis is that we may be in a bit of a slowdown now, but in two to three years when a project is set to deliver it sets up nicely for the rebound in this current slowdown, I won’t go as far as to call it a recession. And so we’ve seen investors and debt capital alike gravitating towards new developments,” O’Neil said. “And in fact, it’s probably easier right now to capitalize on new ground-up development than it is a value-add office deal, for example, where you might have 70 percent occupancy and you’re trying to get to 90 percent occupancy in the near term. There’s just more conviction on what the world will look like in a couple years versus over the next six months.”

O’Neil said hotels and retail developments are struggling to get financed right now. Retail developments with a grocer and that have “a compelling story” might fare better, she said.

“But with the delinquency rate on existing loans in the mid-teens for those product types, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to get those C-Suites on board with making any sort of aggressive bets on retail and hotel for the foreseeable future,” she said.

Chris Brown, CEO of construction management firm John Moriarty & Associates, said biotech remains one of the hottest sectors in the marketplace right now and the “great need” for added research and lab space has not been diminished by the pandemic. At the same time, there’s “a little hesitancy” to commit to any deals involving traditional office space, given the uncertainties around the future of remote working and the return of most employees to the office.

“Biotech is probably the sector of the market that … will have the most traction moving forward,” he said.

Tamara Small, the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts who moderated Tuesday’s discussion, asked Brown about converting office space to research or lab space, citing conversations she’s had with people who have suggested that “biotech is the new office.” Brown said his firm is working to “reposition” some office space at the Cambridgeside Galleria and has “a few other projects in the pipeline that look to take existing office space and potentially either add on to it or reposition it for biotech and lab space.”

“That seems to be one of the hottest sectors for us and the most interesting questions we get is in regards to that type of product as well,” he said.

O’Neil said converting office spaces to research or lab space for life sciences and biotech companies could help meet some of the demand for those spaces sooner than the pipeline of new construction could on its own.

“The demand from the tenants on the life science side was growing at an annual growth rate of a little over 8 percent and it’s projected to continue through 2023 at just over 7 percent, which if you look at the current 25.7 million square foot market, that means there’s demand for over 34 million square feet,” she said. “We’re about 3 million short of meeting that demand based on the current pipeline for 2023. Now, that generally includes only ground-up, brand new developments, so maybe the conversion factor will start to fill in some of that.”

The panel also took on the suburbs and the question of whether the pandemic, and the changes it has brought to commutes and daily life, is creating a time for the suburbs to shine and draw even more people out of urban cores. In July, real estate market analysts at the Warren Group said increases in sales in more rural parts of Massachusetts were “far in excess” of the state average.

“Cities are going to endure. The intrinsic qualities that brought everybody to them pre-COVID, we’re going to appreciate them all the more when this ends, and it will end. So we just envision a totally different kind of lifestyle returning when we’re through this,” Abe Menzin, a principal at the development firm Samuels & Associates, said. “In my more optimistic moments, I actually think that remote work options for people could actually enhance the vitality of cities. It could help shave the peaks off of some of the congestion issues that we’ve encountered, and could give people more flexibility in their lifestyle and make a livable city like Boston even more liveable.”

Kirk Sykes, a managing partner at Accordia Partners, is banking on people continuing to want to live in Boston but said aspects of two of his most significant projects aim to address concerns that the pandemic has highlighted. Sykes is involved in the plan to redevelop the site of the Boston State Hospital into a development with more than 360 housing units near Franklin Park and Mass. Audubon’s Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan. He’s also part of the plan to convert the old Bayside Expo site in Dorchester into more than 1,000 units of housing, retail space, office space and more.

“We feel extremely blessed to have a 65-acre park, and the beach and the ocean in front of Bayside. And as such, I think those characteristics will play heavily into corporate relocations for campuses or even the decision to get on the train and go for five minutes to Kendall [Square] as opposed to being in Kendall,” he said. “So we’re designing in the desire to be in an environment that gives you the air, the light, the breath, the view that you might get in the suburbs, but getting it in a 20-minute bike ride, 30-minute walk or five-minute Uber/Lyft to the Financial District.”

-END-
09/15/2020

Goulston & Storrs Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of NAIOP Massachusetts in Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA

Brief Urges SJC to Reject Appellate Court’s Decision on Standing

BOSTON, MA – Law firm Goulston & Storrs recently filed an amicus brief on behalf of NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, in the case of Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA.  The amicus brief urged the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the lower court’s decision, which sided with the plaintiffs in the case.

NAIOP chose to pursue this opportunity because of concern that the Appeals Court’s decision in this case will, if allowed to stand, chill the development of commercial, industrial, and residential projects statewide by eliminating a meaningful requirement that plaintiffs in zoning cases must establish their standing with admissible evidence of harm to their interests protected by zoning.

“We are grateful to the incredible team at Goulston & Storrs for their work,” said Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts. “Meritless appeals of zoning decisions are used all too frequently to delay and kill beneficial development projects. The decision in Murchison v. Sherborn ZBA will have far reaching implications for our industry. Making it easier for plaintiffs who are not injured to pursue zoning appeals will worsen the current housing shortage, hinder economic development projects, and eliminate a critical standing doctrine. For these reasons, we hope the SJC will overturn the Appeals Court decision.”

The Goulston & Storrs team involved in the matter includes Gary Ronan and Alana Rusin. 

Oral arguments will be held Thursday March 5.

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NAIOP Contact: Anastasia Nicolaou / 650-380-9440

About NAIOP

NAIOP Massachusetts, The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, represents the interests of companies involved with the development, ownership, management, and financing of commercial properties.  NAIOP’s 1,700 members are involved with more than 250 million square feet of office, research & development, industrial, mixed use, multifamily, retail and institutional space. In addition to providing education and networking opportunities, NAIOP advances the interests of the industry and advocates for effective public policy. For more information, visit www.naiopma.org.

About Goulston & Storrs

With over 200 lawyers across multiple disciplines, Goulston & Storrs is a real estate powerhouse with leading-edge corporate, litigation, tax, and private client and trust practices. We employ a team approach that values client outcomes first and foremost. The firm’s dedication to providing prompt, practical legal advice, cost-efficiently and tailored to our clients’ business needs, has resulted in Goulston & Storrs being acknowledged for excellence by leading industry, client, and peer rankings including Chambers USA, BTI’s A-Team for Client Service, and U.S. News & World Report Best Lawyers. Goulston & Storrs is an Am Law 200 law firm with offices in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

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.

A Great Start for Economic Development Under the Baker/Polito Administration

BakerGovernor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito just filed the administration’s Economic Development bill with $1 billion to be invested over the next five years into economic development, housing and job training across the Commonwealth.

A core principal of this legislation is to take various existing programs and make enhancements to them so that they become more widely used, more effective, recapitalized, and more user-friendly:

  • MassWorks ($500 million proposed capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($75 million proposed capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
  • Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
  • Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.
  • I-Cubed Reform: Reforms the I-Cubed infrastructure program by removing unnecessary program requirements (such as eliminating the per-municipality cap on the number of projects that may participate and raising the aggregate limit of funds from the I-cubed program that may be used in any one municipality from 31% to 50%) building flexibility into the program, and aligning program requirements with the demonstrated project pipeline.
  • Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete formula-driven incentive categories, and by creating a new Extraordinary Development Opportunity designation.

In addition, the bill creates two important provisions:

  • Site Readiness Fund ($25 million proposed capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities (including site assessment and cleanup) that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
  • “Starter Home” Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program. These projects will also allow the municipality to be eligible for school reimbursements under Chapter 40S.
  • Parking Management Districts: Aligns local parking policies with broader economic development priorities by enabling municipalities to opt into creating demand-based parking fees, and allowing parking fees to support capital improvements in designated districts, like downtowns.

In addition, there are new programs with a Massachusetts Innovation Initiative, Workforce Development, and Economic Competitiveness.

We are very supportive of the bill, which contains many of NAIOP’s priorities. This legislation will be one of NAIOP’s top priorities for the remainder of the legislative session.

Housing Costs May Cost Us Our Young Talent

This post originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on November 20, 2015.

ApartmentsIn the coming years, the Massachusetts economy may be at serious risk. The Commonwealth’s most valuable resource is its educated, skilled talent. Maintaining that resource is essential for continued economic growth. However, there is a threat which is making that goal harder and harder to achieve. Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation – a significant barrier for talent recruitment and retention. Without an adequate supply of workforce housing, Massachusetts may soon lose that talent to other, more affordable, markets.

The UMass Donahue Institute’s Population Estimates Program concluded that the state’s population will increase by nearly 300,000 over a 20-year period. Good news, but the population of Massachusetts grew only by 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the U.S. population increased by 9.7 percent. Of concern, the study also projects an increasingly older population for the state.

Though a good portion of Massachusetts’ growth is driven by a net natural increase (number of births greater than deaths), a larger share of the growth is attributed to net immigration. Looking more closely, there is a net domestic outflow of residents (more people moved out of Massachusetts than into it from other parts of the U.S.), offset by a large number of international immigrants.

This is occurring during a boom time for the Greater Boston region, while the rest of the country, with a few exceptions, is still working its way out of the recession. Another way of looking at it is that, for the past few years, there have not been many job opportunities attracting our younger workers away from the state.

It was not that long ago that most of the country was experiencing stronger job growth than Massachusetts. As documented in a 2003 University of Massachusetts/MassINC report, Mass. Migration, over 200,000 more domestic residents moved out of Massachusetts than moved into the state between 1990 and 2002. And then, between 2002 and 2004, that imbalance became worse.

Fortunately, at that time, foreign immigrants helped to offset these population losses, but they frequently arrived with lower levels of education and skills than those who were leaving. Those departing tended to be younger, better educated, and more likely to be employed in a knowledge-intensive industry.

These trends will have substantial workforce and business implications and should be a call to action. The costs of both rental and for sale housing have been accelerating, reaching record highs. More and more young individuals and families are being priced out of the market. In some cases, the problem is restrictive zoning, other municipalities are shunning any housing that increases the school population, and in some markets, the cost of construction makes workforce housing uneconomical.

The solutions may be difficult, political, and costly, but without action at the state and local levels, the future of the Massachusetts economy is at risk.

Bullet Trains for Boston?

photo
It’s an interesting time to think about investments in infrastructure, as the state legislature’s major transportation bill is now being finalized. As I experience Japan’s modern, expansive train system, I wonder what a bold transit plan for our Commonwealth, and the greater region, could do for our economic future?

For example, imagine a “bullet” train that travels, at least, 150 miles/hour (certainly, a far cry from our aging T fleet.) After years of hunting for an economic solution to our western region, what could a 30 minute commute between Boston and Springfield mean? Talk about an economic development engine that could also open up affordable housing alternatives!