Samuels President's Tips for Making Big Projects Transformative
In 2004, when Samuels & Associates embarked on its plan to transform the Fenway's main drag into a dynamic mixed-use destination, president Joel Sklar says S&A was selling a long-term vision to prospective tenants. Now, after the developer and its financial partners have invested $2.3B to build five residential buildings, 1M SF of offices, and retail, he’s marketing the experience of being in a real neighborhood. Hear more from Joe and other expert panelists at Bisnow's Boston's Major Projects event tomorrow.
Once Fenway was mostly parking lots, fast food restaurants and the ballpark. Now, tenants are clamoring to be in the new Fenway. Undeterred by office rents that have climbed over $60SF—comparable to the hot Seaport District—Samuels is filling up Class-A commercial and retail space. The 232k SF spec office building the developer launched at 1325 Boylston St a year ago is completely leased now that biotech startup Decibel signed up for 32k SF. Not only is the building full, Decibel’s arrival makes Fenway a stronger contender for future life sciences, biotech and lab users, Joel says.
Samuels was pioneering when it opened the multifamily Trilogy (above) in 2004. Its job was to prove Fenway could support Class-A residential, Joel says. To establish a beachhead, Samuels has been promoting activity on the street level that’s energetic and comfortable by installing pop-up stores and eateries like Tasty Burgers. Location is important but streetscape activity drives leasing, he tells us.
The developer is now building to a new level of luxury at Pierce Boston (rendering above), condos expected to sell for $1M to $5M. In the building designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, over 30% of the units are pre-sold, Joel says.
Samuels, which owns 12 assets in Fenway, has completed eight ground-up or gut renovation projects and plans to do three more major projects. One of its earliest goals was to connect Fenway with the rest of the city and that’s starting to happen, Joel tells us.
A tipping point for the rise of the new neighborhood was last year’s opening of the VanNess, which occupies an entire city block. The thousands of people using its offices and apartments keep the newly widened and landscaped sidewalks active and busy with people even when the Red Sox aren’t playing at Fenway Park.
Some key elements that make big, game-changer projects work, in Joel’s experience:
- Master Planning – plan each project at the neighborhood level, not just building by building.
- Create excitement - seed the neighborhood with retail, restaurants and amenities. Since a major project takes five to seven years to develop, install temporary uses and vendors like Tasty Burger in the early stages.
- Keep raising the bar - Each building has brought the neighborhood to a higher level of maturity and activity. Trilogy established the luxury residential market; VanNess introduced tech-driven offices and more amenities. Pierce, with its condominiums and 24/7 concierge, is ushering in luxury homeownership.
- Work with the neighborhood - It’s key to understand what the residents and business owners want and how to align the project with their values.
Hear more from Joel and the rest of our star-studded cast of panelists at Bisnow's Boston's Major Projects event tomorrow at 226 Causeway St, beginning at 7:30am.