Multi-family developers face a unique set of challenges in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood

Pictured is EchelonSeaport, Cottonwood Group’s signature multi-family project in Boston’s Seaport district. During construction of the project, the developer took extra engineering precautions to protect the property from the weather that comes with being located in a waterfront community.

By Becky Bedwell, Vice President of Development, Cottonwood Group

As one of Boston’s most vibrant and fastest growing neighborhoods, the Seaport District has garnered much attention as it has undergone a multitude of transformations over the past 150 years.

The area evolved from a bustling train station and shipping area in the early 20th century to a no man’s land of parking lots in the 1990s to its most recent version: the Innovation District. While the spotlight is only brightening as several high-profile residential and mixed-use projects come online in this distinctive and in-demand neighborhood, the headlines only tell part of the story.

Becky Bedwell, Cottonwood Group

Becky Bedwell, Cottonwood Group

The Seaport District’s seemingly sudden emergence is the result of more than a decade of development and more than $22 billion in public funding – efforts that have helped attract hundreds of new businesses and support a growing list of remarkable developments.

The challenges faced and the opportunities realized by developers in this part of town reveal important truths about what it takes to create great civic spaces and successful multi-family developments – not just in this city and region, but in the urban communities across the country.

What follows are some of the best practices, considerations, and lessons learned about creating multi-family magic in Boston’s growing Seaport District.

arms race

One of the unmistakable trends in multifamily development – ​​especially high-end urban multifamily products – has been an arms race for amenities. Developers compete to offer the latest and greatest creative spaces and lifestyle luxuries that appeal to potential residents and set themselves apart from the competition.

This dynamic is evident in some of the Seaport District’s latest multi-family additions, such as Cottonwood Group’s 3.5-acre EchelonSeaport development. The project exemplifies urban resort living in Boston’s most vibrant neighborhood, touting sophisticated high-end amenities and a curated residential lifestyle as key selling points.

Cottonwood, which developed and manages the project, has introduced a condo and apartment product that not only has standard details and amenities like programmable thermostats, 24-hour concierge and resident lounge, but also bigger and more spectacular offers. The project, comprised of two condo towers and a multi-family tower, sits on two street-level retail floors and includes over 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor amenity space.

Highlights include three swimming pools (one indoor), two sky lounges, fitness center with indoor basketball court, private spa, outdoor wellness areas for yoga and fitness classes, park for dogs and several lounges with gathering spaces.

weather or not

As its name suggests, the Seaport District, like much of Boston, is close to the waterfront. The potential for higher tides, storm-related flooding, and other problems presented by environmental changes must be considered in the design and development process.

With this in mind, Cottonwood has proactively incorporated construction and design elements to further enhance the natural protective benefits of EchelonSeaport by placing mechanical equipment on the roof, designing the first floors and basements so that are more weather resistant and by putting in place systems with weatherproof barriers that can be deployed before a storm or other severe weather event.

In September 2021, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) officially ratified new regulations designed to ensure that many new or updated structures across the city will be more resilient to future water incursions from storms and tides. tall. The Seaport District is one of several Boston neighborhoods in which “living space in residential buildings should be at least two feet above” the predicted 40-inch sea level rise that could result of a storm. Similar rules apply to commercial buildings, housing, offices and laboratories.

Developers in four-season cities like Boston must also think strategically and creatively about how to provide a smart balance between indoor and outdoor amenities when much of the year can be cold and snowy. The trick is to balance the need to provide outdoor living options for residents without overinvesting in spaces that are unlikely to be used for half the year.

Lively neighborhoods

Despite the need for more high-quality multi-family projects across the city, ground floor retail is still very important as it helps enliven and activate the street scene and provides a richer palette of options. of life-work-play that enliven urban residential offers.

We see it in action all over the seaport, which is only becoming more evident now that COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease. Compared to other parts of Boston, like the Financial District, which can be quite empty in the middle of the day, the Seaport is a bustling community, with residents and workers on the go and contributing to an attractive social dynamic no matter what. time of day.

Construction and engineering challenges

Many ambitious projects in Boston have had to modify design or operations to accommodate construction on or around city- or site-specific obstacles.

In the case of EchelonSeaport, Boston’s Silver Line Tunnel bifurcates the project’s two parcels, eliminating the possibility of a single-tub parking garage foundation, a standard formula for multi-family developments in Boston.

The solution was necessarily creative and included a small utility and service tunnel connecting two garages that serves as a connectivity point for utilities and other operational necessities. Everything was built around the transit tunnel in operation without any impact on the Silver Line service.

Additionally, all projects in the Seaport District must adhere to height restrictions due to the neighborhood’s proximity to Boston Logan International Airport. All coastal developments in Boston are also subject to design considerations to ensure they comply with Chapter 91, the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Law, designed to preserve pedestrian access along the edge. some water.

Moving forward

Last year, condo sales in the Seaport District averaged over $1,500 per square foot, more than Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Downtown Crossing or any other neighborhood in Boston. Mixed-use and multi-family development activity in the area remains strong thanks to the continued expansion of industries like life sciences and technology.

Several noteworthy openings in 2021 have added to the neighborhood’s vast array of multi-family offerings, and more developments are underway. For example, Cronin Development is currently constructing a 22-story, 114-unit mixed-use condominium development in the Seaport.

On the office side, Amazon recently leased a new 17-story office tower in the Seaport, a 630,000 square foot space to be completed in 2024 that will expand the tech giant’s Boston presence by 3,000 employees. Iconic brands like GE, Eli Lilly and MassMutual have all recently opened or have work in progress to open significant new spaces in the seaport.

That said, any large-scale project in an urban market presents logistical challenges – longer lead times alone can be a challenge in a fast-paced and competitive multi-family market. New projects in the Seaport District will need to consider potential disruptions related to COVID-19, current labor and materials market challenges, and the Mayor’s commitment to prioritizing affordable housing in the future. .

Even for a red-light district like the Seaport District, a bright future is no reason to neglect thoughtful planning. Any new multi-family developer in Boston — or anywhere else — would be wise to consider these issues when planning projects and creating communities.

Becky Bedwell is Vice President of Development for Cottonwood Group. Cottonwood is a Los Angeles-based private equity real estate investment firm with offices in Boston and New York, and the development and management company behind EchelonSeaport and The Alyx at EchelonSeaport.