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Don’t name it a comeback: Globe Summit panel weighs in on the way forward for downtown Boston


As soon as a ghost city on the top of COVID-19, downtown Boston is reinventing itself in a brand new world of hybrid work and “destination-worthy” cultural experiences.

Barry Chin/Boston Globe Employees, File

Downtown Boston is on a path of self-discovery because it emerges from the pandemic, discovering its footing in a time of hybrid work and respiration life right into a social scene that more and more prioritizes cultural experiences, in line with a trio of neighborhood consultants.

The state of Boston’s actual property was the main focus of a Globe Summit panel Wednesday, the place audio system touched on efforts to revitalize a enterprise district left ghostly and empty on the top of COVID-19.

Make no mistake: There are nonetheless loads of vacancies, in line with Kristin Blount, government vp and shareholder of Colliers Worldwide.

“The stats usually are not wanting good, however they’re wanting higher,” she mentioned. “It undoubtedly feels extra alive within the metropolis.” 

And in relation to business actual property, Blount famous some promising modifications on the horizon, citing LEGO’s upcoming transfer to Boston as one instance.

On the retail aspect, downtown Boston’s emptiness charge is 20% decrease than it was final 12 months, and the Downtown Boston Enterprise Enchancment District has seen foot site visitors develop year-over-year for 29 months straight, in line with BID President Michael Nichols.

“It’s unquestionably, I feel, probably the most alive it’s been in Boston since March of 2020 and earlier than,” Nichols mentioned. “And the identical is true for downtown.”

He identified that downtown Boston even boasts extra eating places now than it did pre-pandemic.

That’s no accident; the town’s restaurant and leisure business have seen a burst of innovation as customers search outings that mix artwork, tradition, meals, and drink, in line with Nia Grace, the restaurateur behind Grace By Nia, Darryl’s Nook Bar & Kitchen, and The Underground Café and Lounge. 

“It’s a kind of issues the place we began to suppose exterior the field of simply conventional … eating, and so it was now not simply your steakhouse, or simply your seafood restaurant — it was extra about experiences,” Grace mentioned. 

Likewise, Nichols mentioned leaders in downtown Boston are working to create “destination-worthy” programming and occasions that “give folks a cause to go to downtown, the place you’ll really feel such as you missed one thing in case you weren’t there.”

What are the traits?

Town has lent some assist on that entrance, serving to small companies fill vacant shops by way of the Supporting Pandemic Affected Group Enterprises (S.P.A.C.E.) Grant Program.  

“What we’re additionally seeing is a dedication to native, natural corporations who can be extra recession-proof and have deeper roots locally,” Nichols mentioned, “reasonably than the ninth location of a Chipotle, or the tenth Tatte, or the eleventh Sweetgreen — issues that would fold up store simply when issues get powerful.”

Along with authorities assist, Grace mentioned landlords are pitching in to assist with downtown revitalization. 

“They’re not simply placing out a five- or 10- or 20-year lease,” she mentioned. “They’re really getting inventive and considerate about it and saying, ‘Nicely, if you’re a budding enterprise and this could be your new business house, let me offer you one thing that may very well be a bit bit extra manageable.’” 

As examples, she cited shorter leases and extra tenant enchancment {dollars} — sums landlords present for enhancements to a business property.

“Landlords are realizing … it’s a profit to them to additionally form of put their very own pores and skin within the sport to say, ‘I would like you to be a retailer right here. I would like you to achieve success right here. And so let me present you the way I may also help,’” Grace mentioned. 

The post-COVID period has additionally introduced some new traits in workplace areas, in line with Blount.

She mentioned the information is displaying a motion towards “Class A” workplace areas that supply prime areas, newer development, and perks like eating choices and day care.

“Firms try to make their places of work magnets, versus mandates,” Blount mentioned. “And so persons are in search of locations which have nice facilities.”

Boston’s Monetary District, with Put up Workplace Sq. on the proper and a bit of Downtown Crossing on the left. – David L Ryan/Boston Globe Employees, File

Trying forward

As for the workplace buildings that keep empty? 

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu introduced a pilot program earlier this summer season to incentivize the conversion of underutilized places of work into residential buildings. Nichols mentioned it’s “extremely sensible” that downtown Boston will see a few of its workplace buildings transformed within the coming months. 

He mentioned he believes there are constructing homeowners who’re operating the numbers on changing their properties, in addition to non-owners who’re “starting to kick the tires on buying a constructing within the Downtown Crossing space for the unique function of a conversion.”

And as downtown Boston’s revitalization continues, Nichols hopes the pre-pandemic comparisons will start to die down. 

“I hope by subsequent 12 months, we cease speaking about 2019. Anyone who has the purpose that we return to the place we have been doesn’t, I feel, notice that that’s by no means going to occur,” Nichols mentioned. “There’s going to be a brand new Boston that emerges out of this.”

He mentioned Boston is turning into extra attention-grabbing — and extra equitable. 

“I feel it is going to be crammed … with tradition and music and eating choices that maybe didn’t discover their footing in downtown earlier than,” Nichols theorized. “However as we domesticate a youthful and extra various viewers for downtown that displays our majority-minority metropolis, I feel it’ll be a significantly better and extra attention-grabbing time to be in Boston than maybe the place we have been 5 years in the past.”