Opinion: Development will prosper thanks to talent, innovation
In its nearly 400-year history, the city of Boston has never undergone such a robust, prolonged cycle of building as it has during the current historic boom. According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, since 2014 there has been roughly 50 million square feet of new construction, with another 50 million square feet approved by the city during the same window of time. For almost a decade, images of Boston’s skyline have featured cranes looming over steel skeletons emerging from job sites.
With billions of dollars worth in construction starts tallied in recent years, Greater Boston consistently lands in the top ten for new construction spending in metropolitan areas across the United States, right behind Washington DC and Los Angeles. In fact, it is hard to imagine this momentum – which has driven so much of our region’s economic activity – ever slowing.
Of course, 2020 has been largely defined by the impacts of the coronavirus. And when it comes to the region’s construction industry, COVID-19 reshuffled the deck, even threatening one of the area’s economic cornerstones. However, recent activity suggests that the Greater Boston construction sector will continue to thrive, and even expand.
Already, construction has begun rebounding to stable levels. For a long period, the city’s development boom focused on a few select neighborhoods, such as Kendall Square and the Seaport District, the fastest-growing urban life science hubs in the country. However, now the industry is expanding well beyond those pockets, with parcels such as Suffolk Downs in East Boston recognized as prime for redevelopment.
Meanwhile, it is anticipated that life sciences— one of the top economic drivers in Greater Boston— will continue to boost the economy across the Commonwealth. Developers are also increasingly seeking alternatives to traditional spaces by eyeing new projects in places like Boynton Yards and Assembly Square in Somerville, as well as Charlestown’s Hood Park campus.
Elsewhere, suburban developments are also being explored. For instance, a 22.6-acre development in Newton’s Upper Falls area is expected to begin construction in early 2021. This would include 180,000 square feet of office space and 115,000 square feet of retail. In 2019 alone, the submarket of office space along Route 128 Northwest saw 400,000 square feet of additional office absorption and a low vacancy rate below 15%.
And in areas like the North Shore, several new developments hint at our region’s future. Today, Lynn city officials are updating its Waterfront Master Plan, with several commercial and residential property developments already underway along the coastline. These waterfront developments could help spark the relaunch of ferry service from a brand new $7.5 million terminal, providing an essential link to Boston that would help reduce the number of cars on the road during rush hour and position Lynn as an attractive place to live, work and visit.
It has been encouraging to see the commitment and resilience demonstrated at every level of the construction industry during such unprecedented and uncertain times. To help prepare for a return to work during the temporary construction ban, general contractors and subcontractors alike did an excellent job by putting necessary COVID-19 safety measures in place at a record pace and limiting job-site exposure.
Our region is home to a skilled and diverse workforce that continues to find new and more efficient ways to manage projects large and small. In fact, the pandemic has expedited the use of new tools and technologies which will allow for safety and continued success. This local resilience is not without precedence; even during the Great Recession, our area fared significantly better than other parts of the country as a result of creativity and determination.
Greater Boston’s sustained construction growth is a natural reflection of the city’s world class-institutions, particularly its schools, research, and medical facilities. As long as the Commonwealth’s dominance in innovation and its support for new talent within the trades is maintained, the development industry will flourish as an economic engine for our region well into the future.