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Seaport Developers Look To Change The Neighborhood Narrative As Workers Return

The rapid development of the Seaport from vast parking lots to commercial and residential high-rises has irked some Bostonians, including some mayoral candidates, who have called the neighborhood "sterile."

But decision-makers behind incoming Seaport projects are designing more public space, activating diverse retail and entertainment and incorporating new amenities to create a more attractive environment for future employees, developers and architects said during Bisnow’s Rise of the Seaport event last week.

Marcus Partners' Levi Reilly, The Davis Cos.' Chris Chandor and Boston Global Investors' John Hynes IV

“These companies want a wide spectrum of folks to feel that where their company is located is the kind of environment they want to live, work, play and innovate in,” Stantec Vice President David Dixon said. “Because that’s how to hold them, even if they’re not coming into the office.”

The Seaport today is home to 9.5M SF of commercial development, according to Colliers, as well as swanky restaurants, pricey apartments and residents with Boston’s highest average median income. The neighborhood has been reported by the Boston Globe to be Boston’s least diverse, and a 2019 survey showed residents viewed it as Boston’s least inviting.

Boston's mayoral candidates slammed the neighborhood in a forum last Thursday, hours after the Bisnow event, as a “playground for the rich” and “Anywhere, USA,” and also cited a lack of exciting building designs.

But the owners and developers active in the Seaport are hoping to change the conversation, prioritizing street activity and amenities.

Seaport property owners are activating more entertainment and outdoor space, something they have ramped up in the past year. The popular Harpoon Brewery down Northern Street has converted a portion of its parking lot to an outdoor beer garden, Harpoon President Charles Storey said at the event.

WS Development, which owns 1.1M SF of retail among its massive Seaport portfolio, has opened more than 23K SF of outdoor brewery and eatery space near Seaport Square. 

Harpoon Brewery's Charles Storey, Cottonwood Management's Tinchuck Ng, Omni Hotels' Michael Jorgensen, KPF's Jorge Mendoza and Goulston & Storrs' Cecilia Gordon

At The Current, a stretch of micro-retailers along Seaport Boulevard, WS Senior Vice President Yanni Tsipis said a 10th BIPOC-owned retailer recently opened. The developer has also run more than 200 outdoor fitness classes around Seaport Square, which have become increasingly popular, he said. 

“Those public open spaces are actually becoming places of activity and recreation and wellness and fitness in a way that our residential base and our employee base and a lot of folks who are visiting the neighborhood are really embracing," Tsipis said.

The Omni Boston Hotel across from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is attempting to create a more welcoming environment for both hotel guests and Seaport passersby, General Manager Michael Jorgensen said. 

The Omni Boston Hotel in the Seaport, shown under construction in May.

The massive hotel on Summer Street, which plans to deliver 1,054 rooms and 100K SF of event space when it opens this summer, will include a stage in the lobby for music and other performances like poetry readings, he said.

“We want to bring people in and understand what we’re about is not a big convention hotel, but really the neighborhood,” Jorgensen said. 

Even as more of the upcoming developments shift from offices to labs, the street activity conversation is still important. The requests of lab tenants are not dissimilar from those of millennial-catering office users. 

“No longer are [lab workers] the stereotypical graduate degree introverted demographic,” Boston Global Investors Vice President John Hynes IV said. “But a much younger, more active one who is really drawn to the vibrancy and activity.”

Designers behind the Seaport’s prominent life sciences projects are incorporating unique, elevated building designs to open public space, Marcus PartnersLevi Reilly said. 

Marcus Partners' Levi Reilly, The Davis Cos.' Charles Chandor, Boston Global Investors' John Hynes IV, Sasaki's Victor Vizgaitis and View's Joe O'Brien

Marcus Partners is planning to redevelop two Seaport parcels at the site of Au Bon Pain's former office. The developer has proposed an eight-story, 219K SF life sciences building, but plans an adaptive reuse project of an old, 9K SF industrial building into a tenant gathering and amenity space.

The main building will include an elevated first floor to create an urban park underneath the building, a crucial concession with labs’ needs for chemical storage and loading on the ground floor, Reilly said. In all, the project, called Foundry at Drydock, is planned to total 72K SF of public space. 

BGI is implementing its own unique design features at its 10 World Trade, a planned 17-story, 600K SF office and life sciences tower at 401 Congress St. Sasaki designed the ground floor to allow for 40K SF of public space surrounding the building’s lobby, with higher floors jutting out over the sidewalks.

The project also includes a running track on the roof circumnavigating the labs' complex mechanical systems, a feature defying the stereotype of sterile lab building design, Hynes IV said. 

“It’s also turning out to be an incredible selling point,” he said. “When these tenants realize we’re waiting until 2 a.m. for lab results and the Equinox is closed, they can head to the top floor.”

WS Development's Yanni Tsipis, T3 Advisors' Mark Cote, Stantec's David Dixon, the BPDA's Lauren Shurtleff and Lincoln Property Co.'s Barbara Oddo

The local life sciences industry is expected to add 20,000 new employees in the next three years, according to a June report by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.

Amazon plans to hire more than 3,000 people in the Seaport alone across its two towers delivering over the next three years. Along with the thousands of workers expected to fill the Seaport, more multifamily towers are on the way, including the rising 22-story St. Regis Residences condos on Seaport Boulevard.

Panelists Thursday repeatedly emphasized the need for both indoor and outdoor amenities and gathering spaces that have become critical following the pandemic.

Developers across the country have followed suit, expanding their offerings for tenants beyond the usual fitness center and café. Storey said outdoor spaces give other neighborhoods a soul and culture, and he wants them to thrive in the Seaport.

“I think we want to have communities that have funk,” he said. “Give it that street life that’s organic.”