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January 29, 2010 

Our headline is a question many real estate pros have asked since Jan. 1, when lobbying provisions of a state Ethics Reform law took effect. It considers more activities to be lobbying and imposes more penalties (including serious jail time) for those who improperly approach state officials. Leave it to NAIOP to sort things out.
Foley’s Pat Cerundolo, a real estate attorney and Lynch & Fierro’s Benjamin Fierro

A varied group gathered for at Foley Hoag’s Seaport District offices on Thursday where we snapped Foley real estate attorney Pat Cerundolo and Lynch & Fierro’s Benjamin Fierro. They say the law tries to cast a wider net on activities considered lobbying and threatens up to 2.5 years in jail, up to 5 years in state prison, and a fine of up to $10k. Fierro said the law probably won’t do much to address corruption in state government: “It’s a side show.” On the other hand, it could restrict activities of a wider swath of people in the industry, including paid board members and consultants who do research, planning, and strategy for developers.

The Stevens Group’s Debra Stevens

As a broker, The Stevens Group’s Debra Stevens said the law could have broad ranging impact on lots of RE transactions. She learned that she wouldn’t be considered a lobbyist if she represents a state agency seeking to lease space. She’s also safe as an unpaid volunteer for a neighborhood group advocating on real estate related issues with public bodies.

McCabe Enterprises Kathleen McCabe and Epsilon Associates’ Maureen Cavanaugh

McCabe Enterprises Kathleen McCabe, who does community planning and public financing, huddled with Epsilon Associates’ Maureen Cavanaugh, who does environmental permitting. Kathleen said the seminar gave her insight into the twists and turns of the new law, but it’s “still murky.” Maureen agreed that her firm needs to do more study “to see if it applies to us.”

cbtarchitects’ David Hancock

cbtarchitects’ David Hancock listened intently. Not only does the new law apply to those who work directly with state agencies or officials, but when it applies to consultants, it may call upon them to reveal financial and other information about clients. cbt has been working on many big projects including Atlantic Wharf, BU’s strategic plan, and U.S. Postal Service site redevelopment.

Nitsch Engineering’s John Schmid

Nitsch Engineering’s John Schmid was also all ears because his firm is involved with many projects where dealing with the state is routine. Eg, Nitsch worked on the Hilton at Logan Airport, The New England in the Back Bay and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway.

Harbor Garage at 70 East India Row

A red “X” marks the Harbor Garage at 70 East India Row, owned by the Chiofaro Co. in partnership with Prudential Real Estate Investors. The team has proposed a 1.5M SF mixed-use project for the site and is engaged in environmental permitting with the city and state. Don Chiofaro tells us he’s waiting to hear from officials “to see what we can do on the Greenway,” a swath of parkland created in the Financial District when the Big Dig demolished the old elevated highway. If he gets the green light (and the question mark in our title alludes to how difficult that often is), he says he hopes to build two towers with offices, residences, retail, a five star hotel, and underground parking.

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