This Week in Boston Real Estate: The next Kendall Square, preventing evictions and more

by Andrew Morrell

Searching for ‘the next Kendall Square’

Kendall Square is the envy of real estate developers the world over: an area concentrated with top-tier science and tech companies competing for very limited space and access to highly educated talent from world-class universities. The Boston Globe reported Feb. 19 that developers are now actively searching for and even promoting their latest projects as “the next Kendall Square.” The question is whether any of these developments can actually live up to the name bestowed upon them by marketing departments.

“Kendall is the most scientifically influential square mile in the world, and they have a 40-year head start on everywhere else,” said Stephen Lynch of King Street Properties in the Globe story. “That’s OK. There will be a lot more growth in life-science real estate here.”

Lately, developers and investors are scrambling to figure out exactly where these attractive tenants will want to park themselves, if not in the original (and now very crowded and expensive) Kendall Square. One real estate analyst quoted by the Globe said he’s betting on sites just across the Charles River, including Seaport and Alewife. Other sites in the South End, currently the site of the old Boston Flower Exchange, and a lot in South Boston near the Broadway Red Line station, are being designed in hopes of attracting science and tech firms.

But actually succeeding in these ventures is easier said than done. These developments require fairly large plots of land that are also within reach of commuters via public transit or major streets, a difficult combination of factors to find.

“It’s not just about cheap space,” said Brian Dacey, president of the Cambridge Innovation Center, as part of the Globe story. “It’s about being around like-minded people, money, ideas, and talent.”

State law proposed to handle rising eviction rates

Rents in Boston and throughout Massachusetts have risen dramatically in recent years, and eviction rates are also growing quickly as a result. A Feb. 19 story by reporters at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting noted that in 2016 the state processed an average of 43 evictions per day. Most of those evicted are low-income renters who struggle to keep up with payments. This also makes it almost impossible to afford legal representation in eviction cases.

A bill proposed by Massachusetts lawmakers would look to stem the tide of evictions and their numerous social consequences by guaranteeing a tenant’s right to counsel in eviction court. While the U.S. Constitution requires that people accused of a crime be provided with an attorney if they can’t afford one themselves, public defenders are not required in eviction court. New York City and San Francisco are currently the only two U.S. cities with eviction right-to-counsel laws on the books.

Supporters say that in addition to reducing evictions, court-appointed lawyers could ultimately save the state money by making it easier for landlords and tenants to come to an agreement.

Boston tops list for biggest office deals

Last year’s sale of Exchange Place, the skyscraper at 53 State Street, was the fifth-most expensive office building sale in the U.S., according to a report from Commercial Cafe on 2018’s top 50 office deals. Five other Boston towers made the top 50 as well, including the sale of 121 Seaport for $455 million (14th place) and the sale of Pier 4 for $450 million (16th place).

William Raveis expands in Cape Cod

William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage and Insurance announced Feb. 21 its acquisition of Windwalker Real Estate in Nantucket, expanding the firm’s Cape Cod presence. The office will be rebranded as William Raveis Nantucket, but retain leaders Kenny Hilbig and Kristen Gaughan. The acquisition also includes Windwalker Real Estate’s 20 agents.

UMass Boston inks $235 million lease deal for Bayside Expo Center

The Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts announced last week that it had signed a deal with developer Accordia Partners to lease the 20-acre site of its Bayside Expo Center for a total of $235 million. The deal paves the way for what could be a massive transformation of the Columbia Point neighborhood in Dorchester. Accordia hasn’t yet released detailed plans for the site, but expects any new building on the site to include a mixture of residential and commercial space — up to a possible 3 million square feet in total. UMass Boston is under pressure to recapitalize its assets as it faces mounting debt costs and stagnant revenue. Accordia hopes to have plans for the site approved within 18 months.

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