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Massive "Innovation Campus" Proposed for Seaport District

Massive "Innovation Campus" Proposed for Seaport District

The latest step in the renaissance-like redevelopment of Boston’s Seaport District is a big one, and Boston City Properties has the scoop. On July 8, 2019, Millennium Partners and its affiliates formally notified the city of Boston of its intent to develop a new “innovation campus” in the burgeoning neighborhood. The easiest way to stay up to date regarding the project, which will boast approximately 900,000 square feet of space, is by connecting with Boston City Properties. In addition to offering a vast online database of continually updated MA real estate listings, we keep up on the latest developments in the world of Boston real estate—both residential and commercial—to keep you in the loop.

Massive Innovation Campus

Photo courtesy of Handel Architects

With the upcoming addition of the in-the-works Innovation Campus, the Seaport District—which the city technically refers to as the South Boston Waterfront—continues full speed ahead with its incredible growth. Before the Big Dig, there seemed little hope of this part of the city ever being worth much of anything. Now, however, developments like the Innovation Campus are more than possible—and the neighborhood has enough luxury housing to accommodate thousands of new workers to the area. As you will see based on the latest project, this neighborhood is the one to watch now and for the foreseeable future.

Boston City Properties and The Seaport District

Whether you are looking to lease some space for a new startup or to rent or buy a luxury apartment or condo in the Seaport District, you can’t go wrong by turning to the experts at Boston City Properties. When it comes to local commercial and residential real estate, as well as real estate across the state of Massachusetts, we are the name to trust. As new and in flux as the Seaport happens to be, it pays to have the right help.

Signing up with Boston City Properties is a breeze. Once you do so, you’ll enjoy instant, free, ongoing access to our vast online database of continually updated MA real estate listings. Because you can adjust your search in a number of ways through our search engine, you can limit it to the Seaport District specifically to check current availability for residential and commercial real estate for sale and for lease. Our company also has connections with skilled and knowledgeable real estate agents in all MA cities and towns as well as all Boston neighborhoods, and we can put you in touch with an agent in the Seaport District whenever you’re ready to move forward.

About the Seaport District’s Upcoming Innovation Campus

Mayor Thomas Menino laid the foundation for the latest mixed-use development in this part of town back in 2010, when he earmarked 1,000 acres in the neighborhood for use as an “innovation district.” His vision was for the area to become ground zero for burgeoning Information Age companies in industries like biotech, healthcare information tech, mobile media and clean tech. Less than a decade later, his vision hasn’t just been realized—it has been and continues to be exceeded and improved upon, and the new Innovation Campus that’s in the works is proof of that.

On July 8, 2019, ICCNE LLC issued a letter of intent to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, or BPDA, regarding its plans for the development of a 900,000-square-foot innovation campus. As outlined in the letter, the plans call for the demolition of empty warehouses at the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Industrial Park. In the wake of this demolition, a new mixed-use development will be built. It is slated to include general office space, research space and parking. There will also be related retail, restaurant and supporting locations to flesh out the area.

The Innovation Campus is a pared-down version of what Millennium Partners and Cargo Ventures, who together make up ICCNE LLC, had originally envisioned for the area. When the developer first brainstormed ideas, it came up with a proposed 2.7-million-square-foot office campus in the heart of the Seaport District. The campus would be connected to downtown Boston via an aerial gondola, which would have been known as the “prime line.” That moniker had been proposed back when the Seaport was vying to be the site of Amazon’s coveted second headquarters—HQ2—and was featured in promotional videos about the project in 2017.

Plans for the aerial gondola fell through first when issues arose regarding Parcel 5, a 7-acre section of the MassPort Marine Terminal that is owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority. Millennium Partners and Cargo Ventures were not able to come to an agreement regarding the land, so any possibility of developing the gondola line evaporated. The proposed 900,000-square-foot Innovation Campus will be located on Parcels T and T1, which are bounded by Northern Avenue and Harbor Street near the end of Silver Line Way.

Millennium Partners is well-known throughout the city for its many major developments, but the newest one will be among its first forays into the Seaport District. The developer is responsible for the development of Millennium Tower and Millennium Place at Downtown Crossing, both massive luxury condo buildings that contain some of the most sought-after luxury housing in the city. The developer is currently working on the $1.3-billion Winthrop Center towers downtown, and those are well in the works. Its latest project is being conducted in conjunction with Cargo Ventures. The CEO of that firm, Jacob Citrin, joins Christopher M. Jeffries, a founding partner of Millennium Partners, in the most recent venture.

A great deal of work has been completed on the plans for the forthcoming Innovation Campus in the Seaport District. The campus has been designed by Handel Architects, a well-known firm. A few of the elements that have been pointed out for the new campus include massive, dramatically styled windows and a “stunning” entrance. In this way, it appears that the campus will have a cohesive style that will help it to act as a single unit of sorts. At the same time, however, the design will take the overall history and architecture of South Boston and the waterfront into consideration to ensure stunning and unique results.

A Rebirth for South Boston?

With a population of around 35,200 at the time of the 2010 U.S. Census, South Boston, which is often referred to as Southie by locals, had long been one of the most working-class neighborhoods in the city. Situated between the Boston waterfront and the Fort Point district, the area that has developed into what is known as the Seaport started becoming popular with entrepreneurs, artists and innovators over a decade ago. Up until the renaissance of the waterfront area, which is officially called the South Boston Waterfront, Fort Point was the trendiest area in the neighborhood.

Sprawling across approximately 100 acres, Fort Point offers a prime location with the Fort Point Channel to the west, the Bypass Road to the east, Summer Street to the north and West 2nd Street to the south. The neighborhood has long been attractive to artists and has boasted a well-developed artist community for several decades now. In many ways, Fort Point has played a major role in the burgeoning growth and popularity of the Seaport District; without any of that development, of course, work on the upcoming Innovation Campus would never have gotten off of the ground.

Although South Boston has long been among the most affordable neighborhoods for housing, that has changed dramatically with the spectacular growth of Boston’s real estate market in general. Since just last year, 2018, the median sale price for houses here rose by $70,000, or around 10 percent. Meanwhile, the average price per square foot for residential real estate rose from $718 to $745. Currently, the median sale price for all residential properties in South Boston is around $765,000. A year ago, it was $695,000; five years ago, it was $500,000. It is safe to say that much of this activity is owed to the development of the Seaport District.

Boston’s Seaport District: An Overview

The administration of Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston Planning and Development Agency decided to target a section of South Boston for redevelopment in the early 2000s. Although it was officially dubbed the South Boston Waterfront, which consisted of the section of Southie north of First Street, the area almost immediately became known as the Seaport District. This was partly to eliminate confusion between “South Boston” and “the South Boston Waterfront,” which sound fairly interchangeable but really aren’t.

As you will see in the history of the Seaport that we outline later, the growth of Boston’s newest neighborhood has been long but steady—and it has positively exploded over the last five to 10 years or so. By 2014, in fact, it had become the fastest-growing real estate market in the U.S. By 2017, it was the fastest-growing neighborhood in Boston after experiencing significant economic growth due to an influx of startups and corporations alike.

None of this activity would have been possible without the controversial Big Dig project of the 1990s. Until that project was completed, the South Boston Waterfront was effectively cut off from the rest of the city by the Central Artery I-93 interchange, which was once above ground. Once the Big Dig was done, an entirely new transportation network was developed for the area. This helped to connect the neighborhood to the rest of the city even more, and it prompted Mayor Menino to dream even bigger. In 2010, he officially announced plans for the city to develop 1,000 acres in the Seaport for an Innovation District, which he envisioned as being a hub of sorts for Information Age startups and businesses.

About the Proposed Site of the Innovation Campus

As is the case with developing any parcel of land in a city as old and densely populated as Boston, there was a lot of red tape involved in freeing up the land that would be needed for the Innovation Campus that’s currently in the works. The developers set their sights on the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park due to its central location. Originally called the Boston Marine Industrial Park, the park was developed in Commonwealth Flats in South Boston. It was renamed in honor of Mayor Raymond Flynn in February 2016.

For many years, the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park served as the site for the South Boston Naval Annex and the South Boston Army Base. It also operated as a general seaport for many years. Due to all of the military and other activity that once occurred on the site, it contains many old, disused military buildings. As much as possible, these very buildings will be incorporated into the design of the new campus. So far, Boston City Properties has only seen the letter of intent that was issued to the BPDA by Millennium Partners and its affiliates, so we are still unclear about specific plans for individual buildings.

A History of the Seaport District

To see the kind of economic activity and development that’s occurring in the Seaport District lately, it’s amazing to believe that the area was once little more than a wasteland with very little to offer in terms of commercial, industrial or residential activities. Until the late 1800s, most of the area was underwater and covered by clam flats. By the early 20th century, however, the development of several railroad lines turned the neighborhood into a transportation hub for local industries. Supplies, including raw materials, would ship through bound for factories around the Boston area.

After World War II, the South Boston Waterfront became something of a no man’s land. By the middle of the 20th century, it was primarily made up of vast expanses of old, crumbling parking lots and tons of rickety, abandoned warehouses and other buildings. Seeing what a waste the area was, Mayor Menino made it a priority of his administration to redevelop the area into something positive for the city. He was a major cheerleader for building the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and ICA, an art museum. He even briefly floated the idea of relocating the Boston City Hall there. By 2010, he had decided to focus on making the area an Innovation District.

Of course, having an ambitious mayor is hardly enough to literally transform a vast section of a major city. Much of the development and rise of the Seaport District has occurred in fits and starts. Way back in 1991, for example, the federal courthouse moved to the neighborhood from its former site in the Financial District. With its 88-foot-tall glass wall and otherwise innovative architecture, the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, as it is known, was considered a game-changer for the area upon opening in 1998.

The new courthouse breathed new life into the neighborhood. Federal employees were forced to come to the Seaport instead of the Financial District for work. Those workers needed places to eat and shop, so development finally started to happen in earnest toward the end of the 1990s. That happened to coincide with the completion of the Big Dig, which helped to open up the neighborhood to downtown and the rest of the city—and these were both gamechangers for the area as well.

When the Big Dig project commenced in 1991, much of Boston was in major upheaval. The primary goal of the $14.6-billion project was to bury the formerly elevated Central Artery I-93 Interstate freeway that ran through the area. That elevated freeway essentially cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city. In turn, residents of the city and suburbs could now reach the Seaport District in a matter of minutes, making development of the area more profitable and reasonable. The addition of the Silver Line made travel to and from the airport and the neighborhood a snap, and getting to and from the Seaport and downtown was easier than ever before.

To keep development of the area on the rise, Mayor Menino established the Boston 2000 Committee in 2000. The primary goal of the committee was to award a waterfront site to a cultural institution. The mayor and his administration believed that adding a cultural attraction to the South Boston Waterfront would spur growth of the region even further. Ultimately, the honor was awarded to the Institute of Contemporary Art, which was formerly located in Back Bay. The new 65,000-square-foot facility opened in 2006, and it now receives more than 200,000 visitors per year—approximately seven times the number that it received at its old location.

Perhaps the biggest development in the ongoing rise of the Seaport District was the construction of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Mayor Menino had long pushed for a new convention center in the area because outlying areas had centers that were drawing important business and economic activity away from the city. His efforts came to fruition, and the new convention center opened its doors in 2004. It turned out to be a smart move because it turned Boston into one of the top convention destinations in the country. In the year 2011 alone, the convention center is credited with having an economic impact of $520 million.

With the area rising quickly in prominence thanks to its new art museum and convention center, it is no surprise that developers started to flock to the Seaport for new projects. In 2005, the Fallon Co., a development firm, purchased the 21-acre Fan Pier waterfront site. At the time, it had mostly consisted of vast, derelict parking lots. The developer paid $115 million for the site, which it envisioned as becoming a catalyst for the further growth of the waterfront. As of 2015, the site had been developed into a mixed-use development consisting of four commercial towers plus a luxury condo building—Twenty Two Liberty. A second residential tower, Fifty Liberty, is slated for completion in 2020. All told, the $4-billion Fan Pier project will add more than 3 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate; public and cultural spaces; two parks; and a 6-acre marina.

Another factor that contributed to the growth of the Seaport District and eventual development of the Innovation Campus was the exodus of former Cambridge residents to the area around the early 2000s. At the time, many residents of the city of Cambridge were being priced out as rents and home prices climbed steadily. Right along with them, many artists, art studios and tech startups started looking for cheaper places—but none were to be found in Cambridge. Around that time, however, Fort Point in South Boston had started piquing the interest of many Bostonians. As word spread around Cambridge about the vast warehouses there that were being turned into loft apartment buildings and innovative research and technology spaces, people and companies flocked to the waterfront. These new residents and workers created demand for new restaurants. Over time, employees in the area started demanding new housing. The South Boston Waterfront’s transformation into the Seaport District had truly begun.

Although the Seaport District prompted huge changes for city dwellers almost immediately, it didn’t necessarily do much to draw in people from outside of the city limits. That all changed in spring 2011, when Liberty Wharf officially opened. The $60-million development included on-site parking and dozens of retail sites and restaurants along with residential and office space. Its proximity to major freeways and upscale aesthetics quickly made it attractive not only to city dwellers but to suburbanites too. As a result, more people from the suburbs started seeking out the Seaport District—and many came to fall in love with it and now live there today.

The Boston Seaport Project

It would be foolish to discuss the incredible rise of the Seaport District and the development of the upcoming Innovation Campus without acknowledging the huge impact of the Boston Seaport Project on the area. As outlined in the history above, the Seaport started growing rapidly after the completion of the Big Dig. Unfortunately, much of that growth slowed to a crawl with the 2008 recession. For a while there, it looked like all of the big plans for the Seaport were doomed to failure.

In 2015, as the city and country emerged from the recession and even rebounded from it, a developer called WS Development turned into a major player in the ongoing development of the Seaport District. That year, the company purchased the equivalent of 20 city blocks across a large swatch of the waterfront area. It also acquired all of the permits that it would need to modify existing public spaces. In effect, WS Development obtained the rights to completely transform a massive section of the Seaport.

Unlike the way in which most Boston neighborhoods grew, which was organically and without any logical plan, the developer for the 20 city blocks in the Seaport knew that a clear vision was needed. As a result, WS Development came up with a clear master plan for the area, which is still in development to this day. The master plan includes details for shaping the neighborhood so that it is more fluid and cohesive. The plan will prompt the coordination of the neighborhood’s urban design, landscaping and other features, which should make it all the more attractive not only to individuals and businesses but to investors as well.

Ultimately, the Boston Seaport project in the Seaport District will feature two primary pedestrian thoroughfares. One, Harbor Way, runs north to south. The other, Seaport Boulevard, runs east to west. Without a doubt, these new walkways will be incorporated into other aspects of the redevelopment of the Seaport District and will help to make the entire area more walkable. This will likely give rise to more tourist activity, which should help to generate even more money for the local economy that can be used to promote local business activities further.

Incredibly, the Boston Seaport is the largest single real estate project in the history of Boston—and it is still in the works, so its final impact is yet to be seen. All told, it will offer 7.6 million square feet of mixed-use space from its primary location at Seaport Boulevard and Boston Wharf Road. Of the 7.6 million square feet of space, 3.2 million is for residential; 2.8 million is for office and research space; around 450,000 is for hotel space; and another 1.1 million is for retail space. The grounds will also include 8.8 acres of public open space.

The developer has also adhered to the city’s requirement for providing 15 percent affordable housing with any new residential development. Upon completion, Boston Seaport will offer around 3,200 residential units, which means that there will be around 480 affordable units. On top of that, WS Development has agreed to adding 10,000 square feet of civic space, which may or may not end up including a library, to the neighborhood. So far, approximately eight blocks have completed buildings. One is currently under construction, and another nine are currently awaiting development. The one that’s currently under construction, 88 Seaport, stands 18 stories and offers retail and office space.

Real Estate in the Seaport District

By the end of 2018, real estate prices in the Seaport District had become among the highest in the whole region. Real estate here was averaging for around $2,200 per square foot, with the average asking price at the end of November 2018 hovering around $2,240 per square foot. These steep prices largely reflect the sudden addition of hundreds of luxury condos and apartments in the neighborhood, which are quickly being filled.

If you are looking to buy in the Seaport District—for example, if you plan to perhaps take a job on the Innovation Campus when it is complete—it helps to know what to expect from the market. Boston City Properties is here to help you to find exactly what you need. In the meantime, we can educate you about housing prices here. Currently, the average sale price for residential real estate in the Seaport District is $2.49 million, and the median list price is $2.26 million. In other words, homes are selling for higher than list, which means that demand is very high despite high prices. The median monthly rent for condos and apartments in this neighborhood is around $5,250—among the highest in all of metro Boston.

Office Rents are Up Too

When Mayor Menino earmarked the Seaport District as the city’s new Innovation District, he couldn’t have predicted the impact it would have on leases for office space in the area. When the Innovation Campus opens, space there will likely sell and lease for similar prices, so it helps to keep an eye on the current state of office rents in this part of the city.

Just a few years ago, office rents in the Seaport District were about 43 percent lower than in Back Bay. Today, the average price to rent office space in the Seaport is around $52.92 per square foot—which is almost equal to going rates in Back Bay. Tech companies and other startups have swarmed to the old, converted warehouses near the waterfront, transforming the local commercial real estate market along the way. Already, the Seaport is giving Back Bay a run for its money in terms of its office market. Several prominent corporate tenants have already established themselves there, including PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and State Street Corp.

The Massive Growth of the Seaport District Continues

Incredibly, the Seaport District has been growing quickly and steadily since Mayor Menino’s original plans back in 2010. Since that time, for example, more than 5,000 new jobs have been added to the neighborhood. Before that, the area was pretty much regarded as a wasteland in terms of employment. More than 200 new companies moved into the neighborhood during those seven years. Most were tech companies and other small startups, but some established corporations have moved in as well. Approximately 40 percent of companies in the Innovation District rely on incubating space and co-working space, but that is likely to start skewing more toward traditional office and research space as time goes by.

During that same period of time, the Seaport District has seen the addition of more than 1,100 new housing units. These include around 300 innovative “micro units” that are designed with densely packed urban living in mind. As of 2017, Boston’s Seaport District boasted nearly 80 restaurants, and it had eight established hotels. As local businesses grew, demand for overnight accommodations did too, and this further pushed the economy along. Incredibly, much of this came about from the early development of Seaport Square in 2010. The $3-billion project replaced old parking lots between the convention center and courthouse with 6.3 million square feet of mixed-use space, providing a major economic boon to the area.

The continued growth of the area is also reflected in the massive growth of the South Boston real estate market. As more developments were built and vacancy rates dropped, demand for new residential and commercial space grew. Like most parts of Boston, however, new development has not been able to keep up with perennially strong demand. As a result, real estate prices for the entire neighborhood have been impacted—and they have risen steeply in just the last handful of years.

Right now, the median price for all residential properties throughout South Boston is $765,000. Considering that the median asking price for real estate in the Seaport itself is more than $2 million, however, it is easy to see why average prices for Southie as a whole have gone up so dramatically. Just five years ago, the average price was closer to $500,000. Of course, these numbers change all of the time, which is why it’s so important to connect with Boston City Properties. By doing that, you will be able to keep your finger on the pulse of real estate prices and availability across the city—especially in the Seaport District, where things change quickly.

What’s Happening with the Seaport Real Estate Market Today?

As you can probably guess, the real estate market in the Seaport District is especially on fire today. Several new developments are in the works, and many of them are focused on adding new luxury condos and apartments to the neighborhood. The addition of the Innovation Campus will change things considerably, allowing for new companies to move in and to perhaps increase demand even more for luxury housing and the like.

Currently, the Seaport District real estate market shows around 50 properties for sale. Of that number, only about 15 are new to the market. This represents a drop of 64 percent over the same period last year. This drop is not due to a sudden lack of interest in Seaport real estate; instead, it has to do with the dearth of available housing in the area despite rapid, ongoing development. Right now, the average sale price for residential real estate here is $2.4 million, and homes are staying on the market for an average of 159 days. This is up by 49 days over the same period last year and again most likely reflects very low inventory levels as opposed to a lack of interest.

Seaport Prices on the Rise

Incredibly, Boston’s Seaport District had the highest condo sale prices in the area in 2016, and that was expected to remain the case at least through the end of 2018. Rent prices also continue to rise across the neighborhood, with the average rent being around $5,000 per month in some areas. In addition to a general lack of availability, the addition of several very pricey luxury developments, including Pier 4, 22 Liberty, 50 Liberty and 150 Seaport, has prompted asking prices and rents to rise accordingly. Another development that is in the works, Echelon Seaport, will add a considerable amount of for-sale housing upon completion. All told, it will include 1.33 million square feet of space, and it sounds like the majority of the space will be residential.

The Future of the Seaport District

Now is a prime time for the development of the Innovation Campus in the Seaport District because it is experiencing a heyday of sorts that is unlikely to slow down any time soon. However, in the far future, the very land upon which the Seaport sits could be at risk. As sea levels rise around the world, it is estimated that water will be coming in and through the South Boston area from all directions by the year 2070. Already, new developments are being constructed with this eventuality in mind; for example, much of the ground in the area has been elevated above the future floodplain level.

How Boston City Properties Can Help

Like many who keep tabs of commercial and residential real estate developments in the city of Boston, you are likely encouraged by the upcoming development of the Innovation Campus by Millennium Partners and its affiliates. Given how well Mayor Menino’s vision of an Innovation District has played out so far, it is safe to say that the mixed-use Innovation Campus will enjoy great success. When that occurs, many new jobs will become available in the neighborhood, making it more popular still. Completion of the campus is still a few years away, so now is the perfect time to relocate to the Seaport District if that is on your agenda—and Boston City Properties is here to help.

Even though the impact of the new Innovation Campus won’t be felt for some time, those who are able to secure housing in the Seaport between now and then will be in a much better position than those who wait for everything to be complete. The best way to check current availability for housing for sale and for rent in the Seaport District is by signing up with Boston City Properties. You can start searching our continually updated database of real estate listings right away to zero in on the perfect new home. When you’re ready to look, we’ll connect you with a local real estate expert who can take it from there. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.