Date: December 10–13, 2012
Location: South Bay, Boston Massachusetts
Sponsor: ULI Foundation
Subject Area: Economic Development
Panel Chair: Smedes York
Governors Advisory Panels (GAPs) are a special subset of the Institute’s Advisory Services Program, which offers unbiased, expert advice from ULI members to communities facing complex real estate development challenges. Through a generous gift from ULI Foundation Governor John Hagestad, the ULI Foundation offers GAPs free of charge to communities, helping them to kick-start critical conversations and move beyond deadlock on high-profile projects.
Study Area Summary:
Boston’s South Bay district sits at an industrial crossroads, occupying a slice of land between the city’s two major interstate highways. Comprising the Chinatown, Leather District, and South Station neighborhoods, South Bay is steeped in history as well. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Asian immigrants and leather and garment workers were drawn to the South Bay for its proximity to the railroad and the manufacturing jobs that sprang up around it.
In the early 2000s, a major infrastructure project known as the Big Dig rerouted a portion of Interstate 93 into an underground tunnel. As a result, ten new parcels of land opened up in South Bay, but their development was stalled by the 2008 recession.
Fast-forward to 2013 and a brighter economic outlook, and Boston’s leaders felt the time was right to establish South Bay as a vibrant mixed-use district. However, they needed guidance about how to proceed, so they enlisted the help of a ULI Governors Advisory Panel, a team of four ULI Foundation Governors from the upper echelons of the land use industry.
“Sometimes these problems aren’t solvable at the local level, and they need an outside point of view to help them,” says Tom Eitler, ULI’s vice president for Advisory Services.
In the case of Boston, city leaders felt a sense of urgency about the South Bay planning area. As the Governors toured South Bay, they recognized that the site held enormous potential, especially with Tufts Medical Center in the neighborhood. The panelists suggested scaling back proposals for intensive development and focusing on creating better connectivity between the parcels, a more creative use of open spaces, and partnerships to bolster existing residential and retail developments on the site. (Read the report.)
“We made some very solid recommendations and saved [Boston] a whole lot of agony going forward,” says panel chairman Smedes York of York Properties Inc. “Whether they agree with it or not, it’s totally up to them. The idea is that we have the credibility and it’s what we really believed.