October 19, 2016

From Garages to Gorgeous; The Story of Boston's Modern Redevelopment

What do the handsome Boston office buildings at International Place, 75 State Street, 222 Berkeley/500 Boylston, and State Street’s world headquarters at One Lincoln Street have in common?

Every one of them is on the site of a former city parking garage, typically (by the time it got demolished) a decrepit and smelly parking garage.

That was a fascinating nugget of local history I was reminded about this morning by Tom Hynes, co-chairman and CEO of realty leader Colliers International’s Boston office, who was one of five terrific speakers on a “Building Boston 2030” panel discussion sponsored by Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School (and Center for Real Estate) and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. I was delighted to represent Denterlein as MC at the session, which focused on why companies like General Electric, New Balance, and Vertex have chosen to locate and grow here -- and what Boston has to do (transit, education, welcome, permitting processes) to keep the growth rolling.

Tom, whose Uncle John was the visionary 1950s Boston Mayor John B. Hynes, grounded our discussion in a review of just how far the city has come since the tired, bleak 1940s and the fractious, frightening 1970s. (Being in Suffolk’s gloriously resurrected Modern Theatre on the gloriously resurrected Lower Washington Street, which many of us can remember as the vice-fest called the Combat Zone, underscored the point.)

When you look at Boston across the sweep of history, all of those old parking garages, Tom pointed out, “turned out to be only placeholders for something much better to come along.”

That’s a process that’s still unfolding to this day with HYM Investments’ $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Government Center Garage into a 43-story office tower and Millennium Partners’ $1 billion-plus redevelopment of the Winthrop Square Garage into a 55-story condo/office tower with a three-story-high great hall on Devonshire Street. Typically most of the parking spaces inside the garages are getting replaced below ground--but of course, so long as the T is working well, taking the T into Boston beats driving into Boston almost every day of the week.

Here at Denterlein, our team is blessed to look out every day at yet another ex-city-garage transformation: The Post Office Square Garage that 25 years ago got turned by legendary Hub developer Norman B. Leventhal into the park that now bears his name. (Thanks, Geri, for a very nice job perk!!)

On a day when King Tides were making all of us focus on how much Boston is threatened by climate change and rising seas, it was good to get some long-perspective encouragement from the story of what became and what is becoming of the Hub’s parking garages.

In a booming and visionary Boston, ugly never needs to mean ugly forever.

By Peter J. Howe, Senior Advisor