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Newbury Street — A Workplace Shangri-La

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Newbury Street — A Workplace Shangri-La
The roof deck of 531 Newbury St.

For decades, the eight-block stretch of Newbury Street has been the home of luxury retail in Boston, akin to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. 

While Newbury Street is known for its collection of restaurants, cafés and apparel, a new market is emerging: the spaces above the ground floor are now some of the most desirable workspaces in Boston. These 207 buildings in Back Bay form a submarket within a submarket, a working enclave totaling over 3M SF.

Properties on Newbury Street are able to leverage a built-in cool factor that most office buildings and new developments can’t duplicate. Unlike other Boston submarkets with seasonal attractions, Newbury Street is a year-round destination — the neighborhood has a perpetual energy.

“You never have to leave the street. Every possible food and beverage option, as well as every type of service, is just steps from your office front door,” Back Bay Association President Meg Mainzer-Cohen said. “Newbury Street is also a stone’s throw from a park system that is one of the best in the country, including Boston Public Garden and the Esplanade, making it easy to step out and recharge.”

The average office tenant in Boston occupies less than 8K SF. Small and midsize companies can easily get lost in large office towers like the John Hancock Building. For these companies and their employees, being able to occupy a full floor of a building on Newbury Street is a cultural game changer.

Workplace lifestyle and the impact of an engaging office have become key drivers for companies looking for space in cities throughout the U.S. Key decision-makers want to know where their employees will get lunch, where they will exercise and where they will enjoy post-work cocktails.

“Real estate was historically very [business-to-business], very financially driven. Today, it’s being driven by human experience,” Convene President Chris Kelly told TechCrunch.

Each space along Newbury Street is unique. Comprehensive renovations like 8 Newbury and 251 Newbury blend premium glass office settings with exposed ceilings, original brickwork, industrial lighting, beautiful window lines and stunning roof decks — fronted by 19th-century facades.

In contrast, 79 Newbury underwent a full-gut rehabilitation — the renovation left only the building’s shell. Occupied by Avalt, everything beyond the front door is new, with natural light throughout the 4,100 SF space.

Newbury Street — A Workplace Shangri-La
The interior of 531 Newbury St.

Office landlords have numerous hurdles to overcome in order to receive approval for a planned renovation. All proposed exterior work is subject to review by the Back Bay Architectural District Commission. The New England ADA Center requires that all new bathrooms be ADA compliant, even if the building is a walkup. A simple roof deck will only be approved as long as it is set back and not visible from the street. These requirements are not always easy to accomplish, but they are worth overcoming for unique office space.

Renovations are often an investment toward a more profitable asset. Asana Partners, the largest commercial landlord on Newbury Street, owns 154-156 Newbury, an 11K SF residential brownstone that grosses an estimated $35 per SF. When repurposed to office, the same space will command at least $70 per SF. With plans to deliver in 2020, its new tenant will control the entire contiguous building space, along with parking and a private roof deck.

Boston is home to some of the world’s best architects. They are experts at embracing the bones of a building, accentuating its components and delivering exceptional office spaces that look and feel unique. On Newbury Street, this includes exposing internal structures that have been lost over time and providing solutions to accommodate modern and flexible build-outs.

“When working with buildings on Newbury Street, we need to respect the old and acknowledge the new,” Embarc RA and principal Dartagnan Brown said. “As we peel back these buildings to the original infrastructure and historic grandeur, we have an obligation to work with their inherent character. We have the opportunity to deliberately maximize light and utilize internal framing that is a lot more advanced than 30 years ago — that can transform the building into an environment equipped to maximize productivity.”

Despite the extensive red tape required to bring renovation plans to fruition, both the city and Newbury Street continue to balance preservation and reinvention to remain relevant. This past summer, a Jamestown and UrbanMeritage collaboration launched the first pop-up “parklet” on Newbury Street — a miniature park atop two parking spots that includes landscaped greenery and comfortable seating.

Newbury Street — A Workplace Shangri-La
The interior of BIGfish Communications' office at 283 Newbury St.

With over 200 buildings on Newbury Street, business owners have many options at hand. To narrow their search, they should ask themselves questions, such as: What side of the block do you want to be on? Do you want a brownstone or new construction? Are you looking for space mid-block or on a stand-alone corner? What are your requirements — square footage, elevator, parking, roof deck?

These variables translate to a wide range of asking rents. A recently renovated mid-block office with a third-floor walkup has an asking price of about $48 to $54 per SF. A fully renovated building with a brand-new build-out, coming off a spacious elevator, fetches closer to $66 per SF. Buildings that offer other amenities like garage space or roof decks can command $75 or more per SF. The good news is that any address on Newbury Street is inevitably a cool space on a cool block.

In the last 18 months, demand has grown for the hidden gems along Newbury Street — the office vacancy rate on Newbury stands at less than 5%. With just over 116K SF available, developers are responding with more product: 15,256 SF of new office space is under construction, with more to follow.

Boston attracts capital from many different sources. These acquisition teams know that, when compared to a similar building on Boylston Street, a building on Newbury Street will trade for a premium because of its built-in amenities. Companies from many industries are looking to grow their brands on Newbury Street, including financial services, media, communications, private equity, foundations, endowment funds, technology, legal and even new coworking concepts.

Employers are signing leases all along Newbury because they recognize they can attract and retain top talent because Newbury is an area employees want to live and explore. BIGFish Communications, a public relations firm, moved from Brookline and established its new address at 283 Newbury St., a renovated, ADA-certified building featuring a full-floor presence and complemented by dedicated parking and a rooftop deck. It was an easy decision for BIGFish CEO David Richard.

“It’s exciting to be part of a growing workplace community,” Richard said. “The unique curb appeal of the tree-lined blocks and abundance of retail options feed off each other, attracting and inspiring the best employees to grow our business.”

Rounding out the complete package, Newbury Street has incredible access to transit and is only minutes from the Arlington Street MBTA Station, footsteps from Back Bay Station with access to Amtrak/Acela, and close to Storrow Drive, I-93, the Mass. Pike and Logan International Airport.

The combination of history and vitality defines Newbury’s vibe. A model for walkability, Newbury Street offers a collection of luxury designers, high-end athletic stores, fast-fashion brands, footwear, exquisite jewelers, diverse art studios, restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, a luxury tea purveyor, a custom hat shop and a healthy choice of fitness, yoga and barre facilities, all just steps away from the office. It is a collective unmatched throughout Boston and sets the stage for employers and employees alike searching for a picture-perfect workplace lifestyle.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and William H Catlin Jr. — partner at Boston Realty Advisors. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.