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John Drew Opening Building 5 in Seaport

Boston

Next week, The Drew Co will start leasing apartments at its $120M Waterside Place, CEO John Drew's fifth project in the hot Seaport market. But when he started developing there 30 years ago, he saw promise where others saw only problems. 

John Drew Opening Building 5 in Seaport

In '84, when John (above with the firm's Rie Sugihara) started to redevelop Commonwealth Pier into the 800k SF World Trade Center with Fidelity as a partner, he saw major selling points for the neighborhood. People are always drawn to the water; it's a cosmic thing. (That explains why The Love Boat was on the air for 249 episodes.) Commercial maritime activity around Boston Harbor was waning but in the eyes of this developer, the 1,000-acre waterfront was a vast, open property crying out for new buildings. John thought tenants would like the low cost to park in the area's myriad lots. He knew they'd like the office rents, which would be much lower than those in the Financial District.

John Drew Opening Building 5 in Seaport

However, the area had big problems. Current EVP Susan Allen and project manager Hank Suominen (above) have heard the stories. Businesses thought the Seaport was too remote. Although it was only a 10-minute walk from the CBD, "perception was reality," John says. (People also thought the world was flat and that there were mythic sea monsters roaming free.) Still, it was indisputable that waterfront transportation service was poor. To succeed in converting Commonwealth Pier into a convention center with offices, John started to run private shuttle buses to North Station, South Station, and State Street. By '98, when the Seaport Hotel he developed was up and operating, it added taxi service to the transportation mix. Drew promised prospective tenants that the Big Dig would be completed, which meant better highway connections, surface roads, and bridges.

John Drew Opening Building 5 in Seaport

In 2000, with the help of Congressman John Moakley, the federal courthouse opened on Fan Pier, attracting a wave of law firm tenants, says VP James Krzywicki (with general counsel Theonie Alicandro). Other milestones in reviving the waterfront, John recalls, were state and federal authorities' promises to build the Silver Line rapid transit service and the opening of the South Boston convention center. In '04, John and Vornado started planning a $460M, 600k SF mixed-use complex, the first iteration of Waterside Place. When the recession hit, they shelved it. But in a few years, the market started to turn. The Fallon Co broke ground on the 1.1M SF HQ for Vertex and its the nearly 2,000 workers. In '12, Cresset Development opened Liberty Wharf with restaurants that were an instant hit. (We realized those "sea monsters" we were afraid of were actually rather tasty.)

John Drew Opening Building 5 in Seaport

Now, the scaled-down Waterside Place, 236 apartments, sits next door to a Silver Line T-stop. Drew will start leasing in a few days for first occupancy in January. An 1,100 SF two-bedroom apartment will rent for about $4,500. Phase 2 will have 200 apartments and some may be micro units, i.e. a 590 SF one-bedroom for approximately $2,700/month. John likes the idea of having a product that will appeal to the young people who've been moving into the district. Their apartment may be small but Waterside Place will have a large common area where they can socialize, work, and dine.