0 Empty store space in Downtown Crossing may become offices

Does the Amazon effect play into retail vacancy in Boston?  We, in short yes.  How we shop and what we shop for online has changed and will continue to do so.  Retail is still vibrant and strong, but not all retail spaces are created equal.  Some historical retails spaces are better suited for office which in part has to do their size and proximity to public transit.

An example of this transformation is the Cambridge Side Galleria Mall in the East Cambridge.  The red hot Kendal office and lab market will continue to gobble up under performing assets.

An empty storefront near 560 Washington St.

By Tim Logan GLOBE STAFF  APRIL 12, 2019

One of the biggest retail spaces in Downtown Crossing may soon become home to offices.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency on Thursday approved plans by the owner of Lafayette City Center to convert much of its long-empty ground floor into office space, perhaps to house the state agency that handles workers’ compensation claims.

The move by veteran Boston developers The Abbey Group highlights the soft market for large-format retailers as they face mounting online competition. The change also has something to do with the particular quirks of the building, which was built in the 1980s as the inward-facing Lafayette Place Mall before being repositioned as storefronts with office space above.

The proposed change also is raising concerns in some quarters about a block and a half of Washington Street in the busy shopping district being converted to office space.

Much of the building’s ground floor — about 75,000 square feet — has been empty for at least 15 years. The last sizable tenant, an Eddie Bauer outlet store, closed in early 2016. Abbey and its brokers have struggled to fill the space. Among other challenges, the first floor is as much as 7 feet higher than street level in places — a design quirk of the old indoor mall and its underground garage.

“We think of ourselves as creative developers who apply innovative thinking to problems like this,” Abbey chief operating officer David Epstein said. “It simply isn’t feasible” to use the space for retail, he said.


But Abbey has leased more than 500,000 square feet of office space on the floors above street level, mostly to tech companies. When the state began looking for 33,700 square feet to house its Division of Industrial Accidents — which needs to move out of the Government Center Garage ahead of a redevelopment there — Abbey offered up the ground floor.

A spokesman for the state’s real estate agency said it received five proposals for the office, including Lafayette Center. A final decision has not been made, he said.

Workers’ compensation courtrooms may not be the sort of retail and restaurant Downtown Crossing is known for, but it fits with other legal offices around the neighborhood, said Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District.

“This place has been empty for 20 years,” she said. “They found an unusual and interesting use for it. This is all good.”

Still, the shift comes as several key locations sit empty along Washington Street, from Lafayette Center to the long-shuttered Barnes & Noble (which is now being renovated by a new owner) to a cluster of empty storefronts at Washington and Bromfield streets that have been largely dark since plans to build a skyscraper there stalled in 2016.

Sansone acknowledged the empty buildings but also noted that several restaurants and stores have opened in and around Downtown Crossing in recent years. Building owners and the BID, she said, are aiming to bring in more retailers to cater to residents and workers who fill nearby office towers, including a day care center, pet stores, and more home goods stores. She also said Trader Joe’s is considering opening a grocery store in the neighborhood, though a Trader Joe’s spokeswoman would not confirm that.


Some landlords on Washington Street, Sansone said, are being patient, waiting for the right tenant.

“There have been some deliberate attempts to make sure that whatever comes is going to be successful, that it’s what people want,” she said.

One BPDA board member Thursday asked Epstein about the wisdom of leaving retail space like Lafayette Center vacant for years, especially given the effect on foot traffic for neighboring businesses.

“It’s a form of job destruction,” Carol Downs said. “I don’t really understand why this space was let to stay empty for so long.”

Epstein said the market has shifted away from the larger-format retailers it originally envisioned would lease at Lafayette City Center, and the technical challenges of opening in the building were too great for smaller stores. Filling two-thirds of the long empty storefront with office workers will bring foot traffic and, he hopes, will make it easier to rent the rest of the vacant space.

“We’re excited about the prospect,” Epstein said.

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.

0 Tech Startup Progresses Architectural Renderings

iphone app for architects and real estate developers

Credit: BBJ

What will it look like? That’s the question so many property owners and developers face when first envisioning a renovation, and  thanks to Terrence Masson of  Building Conversation, we will soon be able to get a much clearer idea.  The company will allow architects and others to visualized a proposed building within the context of its surroundings.

“It does that through the camera of an iPad or iPhone which acts as a “window,” on top of which architectural design proposals are overlaid. This technology is known as augmented reality, which offers users a live view of a real-world environment combined with elements that are computer-generated,” according to a Bizjournals.com posting.

“In effect, you get to see and walk around a full-scale hologram of the proposed architecture through the iPad,” said Building Conversation’s CEO Terrence Masson, who founded the company with George Thrush, the director of the School of Architecture at Northeastern University…Masson started working on the technology as part of a Capstone project at Northeastern about three years ago.

You can read the full article on BizJournals.

0 186 Lincoln Street Sells for $20.6M

Lincoln Street office building in Boston

Credit: Banker&Tradesman

Building trades continue with Brickman of New York acquiring 186 Lincoln Street for just over $300 per square foot.
Banker&Tradesman offered context on the sale, indicating “the 68,526-square-foot multi-tenant office building near South Station is 70 percent leased, with tenants including Roche Diagnostics, Full Contact and Greystone Solutions…The South Station submarket contains 1.3 million square feet of office space in 22 buildings, 85 percent of which is class B product.”

You can read the full B&T article, here.

0 Multiple Projects from Boston Properties Progressing

Boston office development north station

Credit: Boston Herald

Boston Properties is bullish on Boston with projects underway or proposed from Back Bay, Financial District and North Station.

·         888 Boylston has seen the crane arrive and has announced is major tenant Natixis Global Asset Management
·         100 Federal Street is looking to add more retail on the Congress Street side of the project

From the Boston Herald:

“In 2015, we estimate we could move approximately $1 billion in pre-development projects into our active development pipeline,” CEO Owen Thomas said. “Before launching any of these projects, we need to complete the entitlement and planning process and, in most cases, some level of pre-leasing.”

0 Epstein’s Instructive Strategy for Transforming Downtown Boston

Bob Epstein

Credit: bisnow

Bob Epstein can teach us a few things about remaking duds into destinations.  Lafayette Center was that dud that wasn’t getting any airtime from prospective tenants, despite location, large floor plates and infrastructure.

“At Lafayette City Center, they also saw a property with ‘good bones and upside potential. It has high, 14-foot to 17-foot ceilings, expansive column spacing of 30 feet by 36 feet and big windows. As the downtown vacancy rate falls, rents are rising but Downtown Crossing is reasonably priced, Tom tells us. Its rents in the high $30s/SF to $40s/SF compare well to Back Bay rents in the $50s/SF and Cambridge hitting the $60s/SF. Downtown Crossing is still a value play. But back in 2002, Abbey Group saw that it—like Fenway in the ‘90s and Back Bay in the ‘70s—was undervalued,” according to a Bisnow editorial.

The full Bisnow article is available on its website.

0 Boston Tops US in CMBS Loans

745 Boylston Street office building in Boston

Office Building at 745 Boylston Street in Copley Sq.

Boston leads New York, D.C., Chicago and L.A. not only in the bid for the 2024 Olympics, but also for CMBS loans.

The Boston Business Journal is reporting the “percentage of Boston-area commercial mortgage backed security real estate loans with late payments is its lowest in months and is among the best in the country, according to new data from real estate information provider Trepp,,,According to Trepp, 2.84 percent of Boston-area CMBS loans were 30 days delinquent or more as of the end of November. A year ago, the rate was 4.02 percent. The decline has been more or less steady, with slight increases a few months…The Boston-area compares especially well with other major U.S markets.

You can find more information on the BBJ’s website.


0 Technology is Transforming Boston Commercial Real Estate

big data

Credit: analyticsweek.com

The commercial real estate industry has truly benefited from technology.  I entered the industry in 2002 and from then to now is dramatically different; today I can walk down the street, open my tablet and find out what space on what floor is available in any commercial building.  This was unheard of 5 years ago and only gets better with version updates of various apps. Not to mention the infusion of data, real-time analytics, and crowdfunding.

The BBJ notes “while data can’t predict the future just yet, big data can tell us the probability of future decisions, which can lead to actionable decision-making.” The article also mentions the benefit to “accredited and non-accredited investors, through a multitude of platforms, have the ability to invest in early-stage companies. What this means for commercial real estate is that everyone’s customer base broadens as fractional “ownership” increases. It also results in more capital outlets and providers for a more competitive landscape.”

You can read the full Boston Business Journal article on its website.

0 How Do You Feel about Office Beacons?

Office beacons in Boston real estate

Credit: OfficeBeacon.com

Does your office use beacons like Digitas to figure out your movement with the office?

From Digiday:

“DigitasLBi…has installed 120 beacons — devices that communicate with nearby smartphones via Bluetooth technology — in its Boston office in order to identify how and where its employees congregate. The goal is to learn how to improve office design and meeting scheduling.

‘the most immediate goal…was to use data collected from the beacons to establish a baseline for how the office’s 700 employees currently meet with one another.'”

Does this sound like a model for efficiency or will it yield a new mode of employee resentment?

0 Seasoned Fort Point Landlords Ready to Cash Out

The Seaport is for sale!  The landlord’s that have participated in the lease of up to 3.7 million square feet of new tenant space since 2010, are looking to cash out and move onto new opportunities.  Class B rents have surpassed the $40.00 per square foot mark on Summer Street.

Boston's fort-point neighborhood in the downtown Seaport district

Credit: cityofboston.gov

Banker and Tradesman points out that “nearly 750,000 square feet of office space is currently on the market, or nearly one-fifth of the neighborhood’s office inventory. The six properties include the Thomson Reuters office portfolio, an assemblage of 10 buildings containing 414,000 square feet of brick-and-beam space.The transactions will go a long way toward determining whether Fort Point can retain its status as an Innovation District, or whether rents set by the new owners will force startups to look elsewhere.”

Additional information on the transformative Fort Point neighborhood is available on B&T’s website.

0 Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market: Marked for an Overhaul

Faneuil hall and quicy market in downtown boston

Credit: ABCNews

Faneuil Hall is set for change.  Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp will be looking to convert some of the office space to a boutique hotel in the South Market Building.

From ABCNews:

“Quincy Market, the granite-columned marketplace just behind red-brick Faneuil Hall, is part of one of the world’s top tourist destinations, attracting visitors seeking a taste of revolutionary history and a cup of New England clam chowder…after four decades, the market’s operator says Quincy Market — along with the two brick buildings along either side that house office space and retail chains — is past due for an overhaul.

“Among its early plans are transforming existing office space in the South Market building into a new, 180-room boutique hotel; installing the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo on the top floor of Quincy Market; and redesigning the building’s crowded food court with more open space, sit-down restaurants and, possibly, moveable bars. Along the marketplace’s familiar cobblestone paths, the company wants to possibly introduce ping pong tables, shuffleboard and performance spaces for live music and poetry and book readings.