As Walsh Leaves Boston For Cabinet Post, Builders Hail His Inclusionary, Pro-Business Legacy
Local developers are lauding outgoing Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s legacy of driving the city’s booming development forward with inclusivity in mind.
Walsh, who President-elect Joe Biden tapped as Labor secretary last week, led Boston for six years across two terms and oversaw the transformation of Boston’s skyline, the reshaping of the Seaport and economic activity that breathed life into long-dormant neighborhoods.
The candidates running for Walsh’s office, who have called for reform at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, will work on development goals molded by Walsh’s inclusionary efforts.
The policies Walsh championed challenged Boston’s commercial real estate players to think inclusively while also promoting much-desired residential and commercial growth in the city’s diverse and underserved neighborhoods, developers said.
“I think the mayor understood the strong nexus [of] having real estate development expansion to fuel the economy,” said Richard Taylor, managing director of Nubian Square Development.
Taylor’s Nubian Square Ascends project, in partnership with Black Market owners Kai and Christopher Grant, was approved last month by the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The 135K SF office space and 48K SF marketplace for artisans represents the long-awaited development in the Roxbury neighborhood neglected by development for decades, community leaders said. Walsh was responsible for appointing the leaders on the Boston Planning and Development Agency board who guided the development in Roxbury.
Janey Construction Co. founder Gregory Janey said he first met Walsh at the State House, when the pair worked on a partnership to split a site’s work between minority contractors and union laborers.
Decades later, Janey cited Walsh’s push to continue construction through the coronavirus pandemic as crucial to the local real estate landscape.
“The mayor pushing construction during COVID really stimulated the economy, specifically for the middle class,” Janey said. “As you know, the middle class was really the driver. I think it was bold, huge and creative.”
Other efforts directed by Walsh included the revamping in 2019 of the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, geared toward funding affordable housing projects. The policy originally dictated housing developers to contribute 13% of each unit’s price tag to the IDP fund. A revision bumped the requirement to 18% in the city’s commercial zones.
“He has challenged us to sort of identify and work with all the stakeholders of a project and to think broadly and innovatively in a way those projects can benefit those stakeholders,” Millennium Partners principal Joe Larkin said.
Millennium’s billion-dollar Winthrop Center downtown contributed tens of millions of dollars to the IDP, including a then-$48M commitment for an affordable housing tower in Chinatown.
“On our project, he challenged us and made sure that some of the benefits of the projects we were driving really do reach into affordable housing projects and workforce development projects,” Larkin said.
The Chinatown project has since seen progress stall amid the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the setbacks, a local developer with the project applauded the IDP policy that set the plans in motion before being approved last February.
“[Walsh] went ahead and increased the IDP formula and revamped that process,” Asian Community Development Corp. Executive Director Angie Liou said. “Part of the criticism, all you had to do was write a check for $200K per unit and call it a day. I applaud him and give him credit for revising that policy and increasing the payout percentage.”
More than $8.5B worth of development was approved by the BPDA in 2020, creating $43M in fees to support affordable housing, the organization said. The amount approved during the pandemic was greater than 2019’s $5.6B invested.
Walsh, if approved by the U.S. Senate for his Labor post, would be the first union member in the position in nearly 50 years, the Biden administration said. Walsh touts strong backing from labor unions along with the endorsements of developers in Boston.
“We can defend workers’ rights, we can strengthen collective bargaining, we can grow union membership,” Walsh said in a press conference with Biden last week. “We can create millions of good-paying jobs with investments in infrastructure, clean energy and in high-tech manufacturing.”
Candidates seeking Walsh’s seat in the election this year have called to build upon Walsh’s affordable housing efforts, which claim 26,000 new units completed and 9,000 under construction. City Councilor Michelle Wu, one of two announced candidates, has called for the abolishment of the BPDA, which reports to the mayor.
Council President Kim Janey, who would fill Walsh’s position once he departs for Washington, has seen Walsh’s efforts firsthand and could use them as a launchpad for her own goals in 2021, said Greg Janey, her cousin.
Walsh will deliver his final State of the City address Tuesday evening, and may clear up questions surrounding his departure date as more city figures weigh entering the fray, WGBH reported.
“I think the momentum in the city is people are looking for our next leader to continue on that trajectory for even more equity,” Liou said.