Downtown Crossing, one of Boston's oldest neighborhoods, had the life drained out of it for decades. Soon, the interiorfit up will start on thehistoric former Filene's department store signaling the district's stunningrevival. (Who doesn't like a nice comeback story?)
For decades, city residents fled to the suburbs, trailed by key Downtown Crossing businesses, especially retailers. Even 10 years ago, this neighborhood on the edge of the Financial District was struggling; dark and quiet after 5 o'clock, says Boston Redevelopment Authority senior planner Jonathan Greeley. It had tourist attractions like the Old South Meeting House, but was burdened by the perception that it was fatally uncool. (Think "cool" doesn't matter after high school? Think again.) Since then, $4B in private real estateinvestment, a push from the City, nearly 2,000 new housing units being developed in walking distance, new tech company office tenants and retail has turned Downtown Crossing into a comeback phenomenon.
Early movers in the transformation were institutions like Emerson College and Suffolk University. They restored old theaters including the Emerson Paramount (above), built academic space, dorms and created additional demand for retail, Jonathan tells us. With 200,000 people a day walking through its main intersection, Washington and Summer Streets, the ready-made retail market is being rejuvenated by an infusion of youthful energy. (It's also a really impolite place to leave your chewed gum on the ground.) A Business Improvement District, the city's first and only, has helped with lobbying, maintenance, security, and community events.
For nearly 200 years, Downtown Crossing had few residents. (And, if we're being technical, it had even fewer residents the 5,000 years before that.) But New York-based Millennium Partner's' $220M Millennium Place mixed-use residential project that opened Q4 last year tested how housing would fare in the heart of this commercial neighborhood. All of its 256 condos sold by February priced from $550k to $3.5M. As one of the first Boston condo developments to be completed since the recession, it showed that buyers would put down stakes in the CBD, permanently changing the character of the historic neighborhood.
Oxford Capital's $60M redevelopment of the old office at 59 Temple Place into a 240-key GodfreyHotel (above)—downtown's first since the recession—will bring in more foot traffic. That's one reason why Jonathan says “any new hotel is a good hotel.” The City is also “thrilled” to see a developer investing in an existing, historic building. Oxford CEO John Rutledge paid $23M for the office relic two years ago saying he believed in the transformation of Downtown Crossing. He nailed that and spotted a strengthening hotel market. In Q1, Downtown led the city in RevPAR growth at 10%, PKF Hospitality Consulting recently reported.
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