Breaking Ground in Back Bay

The following blog post was submitted by Sheridan Wachtel, Marketing Assistant at Solomon McCown.

On May 31, experts from all sides of the real estate industry joined us at the Sheraton Hotel to discuss one of Boston’s most iconic and sought-after neighborhoods, the Back Bay. The program, “Breaking Ground in Back Bay,” discussed the future opportunities for retail, residential, office and hotel in the neighborhood that has been the epicenter of the city for decades.

The panel included Peter Meade, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority; Michael Jammen, Principal, UrbanMeritage, LLC; David Martel, Executive Director of Cushman & Wakefield of Massachusetts, Inc.; Michael Roberts, Vice President Development of AvalonBay Communities, Inc.; Jeffrey Saunders, President of Saunders Hotel Group, LLC; and was moderated by Leggat McCall Properties LLC Executive Vice President, Mahmood Malihi.
Meade set the table for the discussion citing the pipeline of projects slated for the Back Bay including the redevelopment of the Christian Science Plaza, 888 Boylston, Chanel’s new retail store, and Copley Place residential building—which will be the tallest building in the Back Bay once completed.

Jammen, one of the architects of the Newbury Line Program, discussed the “red hot” retail scene in the Back Bay and more specifically, Newbury Street. “Constrained by being only eight blocks in length, retail real estate on Newbury street is seeing more demand than supply,” said Jammen in light of the fact that the street’s architecture isn’t traditionally window-display friendly. “It doesn’t have the windows like Rodeo Drive and other luxury retail streets of the world…but no one is going to build another Newbury street anytime soon,” said Jammen.

Having represented some of Boston’s most notable office spaces including The Hancock Tower, Martel discussed the increasing value of Back Bay’s office properties. “We have seen a quantum shift in office space demand in the Back Bay since 2008,” said Martel explaining how the coveted 24/7 lifestyle of the neighborhood is an increasingly important factor to office tenants to attract and retain talent—a factor that sets it apart from both contemporary urban areas like the Seaport and traditional office space properties like the Financial District and suburban areas.

With a growing desire to work in the Back Bay, residential real estate in the area has only increased in value. Roberts commented on the demographic shift that has made residential real estate in the Back Bay boom. “Young professionals landing a majority of newly created jobs, along with empty nesters wishing to return to city-livingare the key demographics in residential real estate in this area,” said Roberts.

And, according to Roberts, residents of the Back Bay aren’t planning to move out of the Back Bay anytime soon, citing residential properties in the neighborhood see half the turnover rate than all other neighborhoods in their portfolio.

Rounding out the panel was long-time hotelier Saunders, who discussed the resiliency of hotel occupancy in Boston’s Back Bay despite the influx of new hotels in Boston’s Seaport district. “Back Bay continues to be ground zero for people who want to visit the city,” said Saunders whose hotels operate at 90+ percent occupancy rate in the summer months and projecting 2012 to yield its highest occupancy rates in recent years.

With a full spectrum of real estate development projects underway and even more projected in 2013 and 2014, real estate in the Back Bay will continue to be hot commodity and a place where residents, tenants, tourists and developers want to be.

Watch a video of the panelists, or view photos from the event.

Getting Real in Affordable Housing

The following blog post was submitted by Anne Baker, Account Executive at Solomon McCown.

 

It’s all about perception versus reality.

That was the takeaway message from NAIOP’s Affordable Housing: Challenges and Initiatives panel on May 23.  The panel included Howard Cohen, Chief Executive Officer at Beacon Communities; Lawrence Curtis, President at WinnDevelopment; Tony Fracasso, Senior Vice President at MassDevelopment; Bart Mitchell, President & CEO at The Community Builders, Inc.; Jeanne Pinado, Chief Executive Officer at Madison Park Development Corporation; and was moderated by Solomon McCown CEO Helene Solomon.

The meeting was kicked off by Aaron Gornstein, the newly appointed undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).   Gornstein outlined his plans for DHCD, emphasizing that the agency is planning ahead for growth in the state.  Streamlining the permitting process, giving support to promising communities, marketing the opportunities available to developers and building needed infrastructure are all essential elements of Gornstein’s affordable housing plans.

But while some may only see affordable housing as a social issue, Gornstein was clear that the high cost of living in Massachusetts has serious long-term ramifications for whether businesses decide to locate here and that the construction of affordable housing creates needed jobs.

False perceptions were also a constant theme throughout the panel discussion. The public is not aware that family homelessness is a relatively recent problem and that it’s easily solved through the construction of affordable housing, Pinado said.  Mitchell and Fracasso both emphasized the creative financing options that are available to affordable housing developers who are looking for them.

Curtis argued passionately that while the construction of affordable housing is important, it alone can solve the housing gap in Massachusetts; we must work together for the preservation of existing low-income and affordable housing.  Cohen also noted that while many upscale communities fight affordable housing developments out of a fear for negative impacts on their school systems, there is little evidence to suggest that is reality. It’s all about overcoming how local communities often approach affordable housing and making the case that inclusion will benefit us all.

View video of Affordable Housing panelists.

What the Future Holds for Cambridge, MA – The Innovation Capital of the World

This blog post was submitted by Allyson Quinby, Account Executive at Solomon McCown & Company.

NAIOP Massachusetts’ “Cambridge: Ready, Set, Go!” breakfast event on February 15 featured a well-versed panel of real estate executives who spoke on “What’s new and what’s next for this hot market.”  Mary Lentz, McCall & Almy, moderated the expert panel that included Tom Andrews, Alexandria Real Estate Equities; Michael Cantalupa, Boston Properties; Shawn Hurley, Skanska USA Commercial Development; Steven Marsh, MIT Investment Management Company; and Thomas O’Brien, The HYM Investment Group.

View photos and event presentation slides.

Marsh noted how the world is changing every day, and that the U.S. along with many other superpowers such as China and India, continues to look for new ways to compete. For example, the U.S. aggressively leads the way when it comes to innovation, and as Marsh discussed, Cambridge has long been the epicenter of innovation productivity.

Due to Vertex’s move to Boston’s Seaport district, many in the real estate industry worry that the Cambridge market no longer holds the same stature it once did. However, NAIOP’s expert panelists assured us that we are in a natural state in Cambridge, and as stated by Cantalupa, “If you can afford to be next to MIT, you will be.” The lab market is steady, and many developers like Skanska USA Commercial Development are currently taking time to re-evaluate outdated space to create real estate opportunities that will fit all types of tenant needs in the future.

Home to two of the finest institutions of higher education in the world, Harvard and MIT, the panelists argued that Cambridge has gained and will maintain a prominent reputation. Companies in the life-sciences, technology, bio-pharmacology, education and innovation sectors, along with many startups, have found their homes in Cambridge. Due to the competitive advantage that comes with a Cambridge address, real estate firms have experienced a tremendous amount of success leasing space in this market. As the panelists noted, there is still an active demand and we continue to see new development activity in this market today.

Marsh and Andrews also spoke about the importance of proximity for lab space to MIT and other academic buildings. It is crucial that all facilities continue to collaborate, creating an environment that fosters innovation. Hurley also noted how mixed-use space needs to continue to be developed; it is important that we connect lab to retail and public spaces.

O’Brien discussed the next generation workforce and the need to build corporate and residential spaces that attract young professionals. His firm is developing the NorthPoint neighborhood, a mixed-use campus with flexibility – one that allows people to live and work in the same place.

Cantalupa and Hurley spoke on how real estate developers need to build flexible buildings that can adjust to market demands. Hurley noted how Skanska’s plan behind 150 Second Street was to deliver a Class-A, highly flexible property with a sustainable design that had features all tenants could enjoy. The building was also designed to accommodate either one or multiple tenants.

As stated by Marsh (and I agree), “Cambridge is special – it goes well beyond real estate” – and it is here that we want to continue the innovation story.

Note from NAIOP: Learn more about the dynamic Cambridge market by attending our 10th Anniversary Bus Tour, Big & Breaking in Greater Boston. Cambridge, along with Fenway, Longwood, Boston’s Seaport and Allston will be featured during this fast-paced and informative live market update bus tour.

Millenials and the Alternative Workplace: The Future of the Commercial Real Estate Industry

At a recent NAIOP Massachusetts program, a panel of leading professionals discussed the changing workplace that is being driven, in part, by a new demographic – the Millennials.

As Martha (Marty) O’Mara, PhD, CRE, Managing Director of Corporate Portfolio Analytics, said about this influential category, “they are no longer our kids, but our co-workers.”

This shift is bound to have an impact as they enter the workforce, and Marty’s presentation outlined some surprising facts about this group:

  • Only 15% of Millennials (age 19-29) say having a high-paying career is their top priority.  They place parenthood (52%) and a successful marriage (32%) much higher.
  • 63% have graduated from college, or plan to graduate.
  • Most in the workforce have already experienced bouts of unemployment.
  • Only 61% grew up in a household with both parents.
  • 38% have a tattoo.
  • 8/10 sleep with their cellphone.

They are a powerful market driver and their communication and work style preferences (consuming “experiences” rather than “things”, for example) are already shaping the commercial real estate industry.   

Marty’s bottom line:  “Don’t let a Boomer make a real estate decision.”  More and more companies are recognizing this and designing an “Alternative Workplace” as they plan for the future.

In a short slideshow, Marc Margulies, Margulies Perruzzi Architects shared the key elements of the new Alternative Workplace:

  • Few/no high wall cubicles
  • Multiple workplace environments
  • Density at 165 RSF/person
  • Amenity-rich
  • Dynamic

A panel of experts including Marty and Marc, as well as Bob Richards of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners; Janet Nicholas of Dassault Systèmes; and Greg Lewis of Shire Human Genetic Therapies, then discussed what all of this really means.  

Highlights and things to think about:

  • The Alternative Workplace is designed to support diverse demographics and to be conducive to multiple work styles (mobility being an important element.) 
  • Producing a corporate community that increases productivity through collaboration and interactivity is accomplished through a dramatic change from the historically private spaces (individual worksettings ) to ”neighborhoods” (more collaborative community spaces).
  • The new term is “benching,” providing bench space that can be shared, moved, configured.  The amount of space per employee can change based on the users from a 1.3:1 ratio that efficiently utilizes vacant space due to normal absenteeism, to up to 3:1 for a group that has higher sales and/or consulting staff that travels.
  • Lastly the “town common” area has plenty of amenities.  Picture this as the Kendall Square within the company where different specialties come together as a community in a social, casual area.  These tend to be food oriented, nature focused, bright, and inspirational.

Many of these changes are already being seen in the new designs and renovations of firms throughout the region, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, according to O’Mara and the other speakers.  Big changes are on the horizon for anyone involved in corporate real estate, and those changes will create countless opportunities for the firms who are ready.

Did you attend Wednesday’s program? Share your key takeaways and questions in the comments below!