Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Influence of Educational Institutions on Boston Real Estate

The Bayside Exposition Center sort of lost its way over the past decade. The Hynes stole the best smaller exhibits while the Boston convention center took everything else. What was left was "bulk product" shows--cars, boats, and the like.

In most cities, this would lead to a whole flurry of plans paid for by the government, in other words us, characterized by Disney-like visions of what to do with 20 acres of land and property in an outlying area of the city. None of the plans would come to fruition, and the building would slowly decay. Case in point--the attempt by the city of Detroit to auction of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. Nobody came to the auction.

In Boston, an opportunity like this leads to a natural expansion of our strengths. As public universities, colleges, and community colleges become more popular (in inverse proportion to the ridiculously overpriced cost of private education), institutions such as UMASS are able to comfortably plan for the future, make an acquisition, and expand the campus.

Harvard did the very same thing when it purchased the former Casey & Hayes moving company building right off the Mass Pike in Alston two years ago. BU is forever picking up buildings along the Commonwealth Avenue corridor. Northeastern has almost singlehandedly redeveloped the entire Ruggles Square area. Emerson College, in its brilliant creation of a new urban campus, purchased 5 separate Class C office buildings along Boylston and Tremont Street and converted them to administrative and classroom space. The most prolific purchaser of privately owned space has been Suffolk, most notably in its purchase of 73 Tremont Street, a 300,000 square foot office property that had lost its primary tenant, JP Morgan, and was 2/3 empty. It is now, of course, full.

What is the impact on the private commercial market when institutions carry out these expansion plans? Many of the properties purchased were available in the commercial market for lease. The Suffolk purchase is a prime example of a NET ABSORPTION of office space due to the expansion of an educational institution. The Casey & Hayes building measures over 400,000 square feet and was owned by Cabot, Cabot & Forbes. CC&F carried out a beautiful renovation (the property is the large, all glass sprawling building on the north side of the Mass Pike opposite the Allston Depot restaurant.) CC&F then alternately marketed as office space and/or lab space unsuccessfully for 3 years. Harvard's purchase reduced vacancy in the Allston Brighton market by 20% in one fell swoop.

While the Bayside purchase is not comparable in its impact on the private commercial real estate market, consider that the education "industry" accounts for over 7% of all leased space in the private market. And, over the past two years, education has increased its market share even as the schools have carried out major construction projects in the non-private market.

Again, the multidimensional character of the Boston economy provides a buffer to the private real estate market to a degree not found in any other major U.S. city.


  1. Whose going to pay the taxes ? The Medical and Educational sector are usually non-profit.

    When i travel thru the Longwood Medical Area i cringe - Boston really needs to get it's act together and coordinate the planning for the entire medical area. Pedestrians can barely cross the street, traffic lights are not coordinated. Have you ever been to the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Send some of the planning genius's down there to learn something. I am tired of business as usual here in Boston, one day we will wake up and Fidelity will be headqurtered in Providence !!

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