ULI Perspectives: Reimagining Boston’s Landmark Buildings

If you walk through downtown Boston today, it’s hard not to notice the cranes dominating the skyline. Never before have we seen the amount of construction activity in the heart of our city than we’re seeing right now. New office towers are being built, retail is flourishing, and residences are opening at record pace. Downtown Boston is changing for the better. No longer just a tourist destination, it is evolving – neighborhood by neighborhood – into a 24/7 live, work and play environment.

Take Downtown Crossing. One of the nation’s oldest and most established neighborhoods, its transformation is well underway with a facelift everyone admits is long overdue. Millennium Partners started the resurgence by redeveloping the former Filene’s site into the Burnham building that now houses the headquarters for Arnold Worldwide and Havas Media. Tech companies like Sonos, WorldWinner and Localytics with large millennial workforces are flocking to Downtown Crossing instead of neighborhoods like Kendall Square that traditionally attract these types of tenants.

The Seaport/Innovation District, with its gleaming, new world-class office towers, residences and ample retail, is now one of the lasting accomplishments of Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration. Over the next few years, a transformation will come to Downtown North with HYM and CBT’s redevelopment of the Government Center Garage that will bring a mixed-use transit oriented property totaling more than 3 million square feet; and in the West End/North Station neighborhood where Delaware North and Boston Properties are developing a three-tower project with residences, a hotel and a new office building. Close by, Related Beal’s new developments at Lovejoy Wharf and 131 Beverly will bring luxury waterfront residences and office space – including the world headquarters for Converse – plus new retail, restaurants, a public park and beautiful open space along the waterfront. The makeover of these neighborhoods creates a vibrant downtown experience that draws not only tourists, but new residents who want to work and live here as well.

The commercial office sector is also undergoing a material renaissance. Building owners realize that in order to compete in today’s marketplace and lure the best young talent, they must strategically re-think and reposition their lobbies, office and common spaces to be not only an extension of the workplace, but also part of a vibrant public realm. Owners understand that repositioning their assets is no longer a choice; it’s necessary to stay relevant and successful. There’s a city-wide transformation happening and they need to be a part of it.

It started a few years ago when office buildings like 60 State, One Post Office Square and 225 Franklin started reimagining their lobbies to be more pedestrian-friendly, inviting and hospitable. Adding amenities commonly found in luxury or boutique hotels, like concierges and coffee shops, help reposition these spaces and enable building owners to attract top talent and fare better in today’s market.

In his inaugural State of the City address, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh called upon the real estate community to aim for more world-class designs for Boston’s landscape, including City Hall. Every urban building, especially civic ones, along with the surrounding areas, have a responsibility to support the vitality of a city and community by creating a socially integrated, highly engaging public space around it. City Hall currently looks more like an abandoned castle on a hill than a welcoming destination for tourists and residents. To the Mayor’s credit, he understands the importance of reviving this iconic beacon that celebrates Boston’s history. Every building needs a second chance to evolve, transform and become relevant again.

Like City Hall, many properties have a rich history and great story to tell. Office buildings shape a city’s character and often define its prominence in the world. Major metropolises like New York City, London and Shanghai are not just prosperous because of good commerce; they thrive because they draw tourists from around the world to see their renowned and distinctive landmark buildings and other beautiful elements.

For Boston’s existing buildings, it’s about leveraging and enlivening that building’s features and amenities, while maintaining the essence of what makes it unique in the first place. For new construction, it’s essential to understand how buildings need to evolve and transform to keep pace with the changing economy and demographic of its users.

On February 10th, many of these trends and projects will be the focus of conversation at the Urban Land Institute’s Downtown Redevelopment and Repositioning event where a panel of experts will discuss the whys and hows of which Boston’s landmark buildings have and continue to be repositioned. Boston is at the forefront of a transformation evolution; to be an architect spearheading many of these projects and helping to revitalize our downtown office buildings is exciting, to say the least.

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