From the Desk of Hugh Kelleher, Executive Director
Email Hugh with comments or suggestions for future items.
BOOM CONTINUES: There is so much new construction going on in Boston– or in the serious planning stage – that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Here are a few of the developments in Boston and vicinity:
- HOTELS: A good measure of the success of a city is its number of hotels and hotel rooms. Since Boston is well on its way to becoming ‘an international destination city,’ the demand for hotel rooms has skyrocketed.
- ACROSS FROM CONVENTION CENTER: A big new hotel has broken ground. Several years ago there had been plans to subsidize the project, but Governor Baker vetoed that. The new hotel will receive no taxpayer funds. But the governor and others will now be under pressure to dramatically increase the size of the Convention Center. It is too small to accommodate the really MASSIVE conventions, such as that of the American Medical Association, which bring in tens of thousands of attendees. Such large events also require more hotel space than we currently have.
- KENMORE SQUARE: Plans were announced for two new hotels that would become the tallest buildings in the square. One building would be 19 stories on the site of a garage next to the Buckminster Hotel. The Citizens Bank building would be replaced with a 26 story tower. A total of 763 rooms would be added.
- $270: The cost of an average hotel room in Boston last year.
- SOUTH STATION: Is for sale. Meanwhile a 51-story skyscraper that will be built above the rail tracks, designed by noted architect Cesar Pelli.
- CHIAFARO’S NEWEST TOWER: Will rise on the site of the garage next to the Aquarium. He is working out a deal that will reimburse the Aquarium for projected lost revenue during construction.
- SEAPORT PROMENADE: The firm that designed New York’s wildly popular High Line is laying out plans for a tree-lined wooden pedestrian promenade, dubbed Harbor Way, that will extend one-third of a mile from Summer Street all to Boston Harbor. The walkway will pass between some of the new towers now being constructed in the Seaport.
- SUFFOLK DOWNS: When Everett was chosen over the East Boston race track as the site for the new casino being built by Steve Wynn, the owners of Suffolk Downs faced a dilemma: What to do with those 161 acres of valuable real estate? The answer is becoming clearer: create a new neighborhood. Look for more detailed plans over the summer.
- CITY HALL PLAZA: Will be redesigned. Initial plans call for lawns, terraces and play areas. The big success of last winter’s skating rink convinced the Walsh administration that the time has come to make much better use of that wide-open space. There will also be a redesign of the strange and unwelcoming ‘back door’ to City Hall – the entrance facing Congress Street.
NOT WITHOUT CHALLENGES: The Conservation Law Foundation continues to push back against what it considers excessive development along Boston’s Waterfront. It is opposing Chiafaro’s tower and projects in the Seaport.
BOSTON RENTS CONTINUE TO RISE: With new construction going on in neighborhoods from Brighton to Roxbury to Roslindale, Boston rents continue to be among highest in nation. As anything connected with real estate, it is all about location, location, location. Proximity to a T station has a strong impact on driving up rents in particular neighborhoods. Check out this interesting graphic on rents / T-Stops.
NEW WINNER: In Boston’s Most-Expensive-Home-Contest – a deal to sell a unit at the new ONE DALTON tower, next to the Prudential Center: $40 million for the condo in the still-rising 61-story tower. This will be New England’s highest residential structure, and will be managed by the Four Seasons.
HOME PRICES STILL RISING: Nationwide, home prices rose 5.9% between March of ’16 and ’17, according to The Boston Globe. “Home values are increasing at more than twice the pace of average hourly earnings, making it more difficult for many people to buy a home.” Also, current homeowners are staying put, leading to a smaller inventory of available homes. Home listings have dropped 9% over the past year.
MOVING: It feels like the closing of a dearly loved old tavern. One of our most established and favorite plumbing supply houses is moving from its long-time home in Cambridge. Metropolitan Pipe, which owns a good chunk of land in Kendall Square, has sold its property to Alexandria Development. The site will be become home to biotech labs adjacent to MIT. Many of us in the plumbing industry have had the pleasure of dealing with the Brown family and their wonderful employees for many years.
ALL IS NOT LOST: Met will be moving to a convenient new site in Somerville, near Home Depot and Sullivan Square, where traffic improvements are being made to facilitate easier access to the Wynn Casino, under construction now in Everett.
INVESTORS: Following the real estate crash of 2008, large investors scooped up many distressed properties. It is believed that they spent $32 billion buying and fixing up homes. They now own between 1% and 2% of the nation’s homes.
BREXIT: After Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, office construction starts in London fell 42%.
INFRASTRUCTURE: According to the Wall Street Journal, cities and states were spending $248 billion a month during last summer’s run-up to the election for construction of roads, schools, police stations etc. Sounds like a lot, but in fact infrastructure spending has been declining. Roads and bridges show years of neglect. Economists say poor infrastructure has been a headwind to economic growth.
TRUMP: An area where he and the Democrats agree: More infrastructure spending. Will the Republican congress go along? Probably – even though for the last eight years they fought Obama’s efforts to do exactly that.
HOW BAD ARE OUR ROADS? So bad that tires on FedEx trucks last only half as long as they did 20 years ago. They deteriorate rapidly from crumbling pavement and get more flats from gaping potholes. “We’re using almost a hundred percent more tires to produce the same mileage of transportation,” FedEx CEO Fred Smith told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
MAKING AMERICA GREAT: Many construction workers voted for President Trump. Maybe not those who worked on the new Trump Hotel a few blocks from the White House. Plumbing contractor, Joseph J. Magnolia Inc., filed a $2.98 million mechanic’s lien in December. According to the filing, the firm “completed all plumbing, mechanical and HVAC work, along with site sewer, water, storm and water services.” Electricians are in the same boat. AES Electrical Inc., based in Laurel, Md., says its owed $2.075 million for work on the hotel.
APPRENTICESHIPS – A GROWING TREND: In New York City, over 1,200 people waited in line to apply for the apprentice training program at Plumbers Union Local 1. Many camped overnight to get in line. This year, several hundred people applied for a spot in the next apprenticeship class at Plumbers Local 12 in Boston. After tests and interviews, about 20% percent are accepted into the five-year program. President Trump supports apprentice programs.
MARIJUANA: Soon it will be legal to smoke marijuana in Massachusetts, but your boss can still fire you for it. According to the Boston Globe (BG), employers will be able to set rules about employees being high on the job. They will be able to require drug tests, and get rid of people who test positive.
WAGES: A Harvard study found that children of fathers who belong to unions grow up to earn significantly more than children of dads who are not union members.
SAFETY: Construction remains one of the most dangerous industries. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, there were 937 construction deaths in our country. 39% of these were from falls. However, the overall trend has been a sharp decrease in construction deaths, thanks to a much greater emphasis on safety. All union construction workers in Boston now undergo OSHA-approved safety training. Meanwhile, the Trump budget proposes a $2.5 billion cut to the Department of Labor, which would radically affect unions, as well as OSHA.
FUTURE OF CONSTRUCTION: One of the biggest trends in construction in the coming years will be massive innovation in pre-fabrication. Plumbing and electrical systems will be built in shops and shipped to the job site. Many piping systems are already being fabricated in shops of our Boston plumbing contractors.
MODULAR CONSTRUCTION… will become a way of life – with entire rooms being shipped to a site, lifted by a crane, and popped into place. This is already happening with hotel construction in parts of the country. Recently a 75 story hotel in Los Angeles was designed to be built with modular units. However, in the end the hotel was built the more conventional way. A similar thing happened with an East Boston hotel. Modular is beginning to happen, but it has not fully arrived.
BOILERS’ NEW HOME: Headline on a New York Times article, (NYT): “Humble Basement Boiler Settles Into a Penthouse, Above Flood Level”. In coastal cities including Boston, NYC, Miami and others, architects and engineers want utilities like electrical panels and HVAC located above any sea level rise.
FREE STUFF? Who gets ‘free stuff’ from the government? The NYT says $87 billion goes to food stamps and assistance to needy families. Over ten times that — $900 billion – goes to corporate tax breaks and programs like farm subsidies.
CONTRARY: To popular belief: Fewer companies are being created now than in the 1970’s, according to the former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. One reason: Companies like Google and Apple spend millions challenging patents of smaller companies.
FISH: New Bedford brought in more fish last year than any other port in the country: 140 million pounds, including shellfish…worth $328.8 million. Nationwide recreational anglers caught 24 million pounds of striped bass.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE IN ORDER: Later this year as I transition into retirement, Jeremy Ryan will be taking over as the Executive Director of our Association. Jeremy comes to GBPCA after working for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) in Cleveland and in NYC. Jeremy graduated from the University of Delaware, and served a stint in the Army, where he tested in the top 1% of all recruits. He has worked with union training programs and in collective bargaining. Our Association gives him our warmest welcome.
ALSO: A great welcome to Wayne Thomas, who has taken over from our friend Tom Theroux as the Executive Director for our long-time colleagues at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Massachusetts. Wayne is an experienced contractor and until recently served as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Plumbing Board. It would be hard to find a more knowledgeable or dedicated professional. Kudos to the Mass. PHCC!
UNEXPECTED, BUT TRUE:
- The most popular boy’s name for Latino babies in New York in 2014: Liam.
- You know that smell when you sniff gas? It’s called mercaptan. Natural gas itself is odorless, so it becomes a safety issue to keep people aware if there is combustible gas in the air. There is an entire national group that ensures that a proper amount of mercaptan is always present in gas lines. Massachusetts has the nation’s toughest standard for gas odorant. When there is .15% natural gas in a line (far below explosive level) mercaptan must be added.
- According to a New York Times article on the Airbus factory in Alabama, now one third of American factory workers have a four-year college degree. Part of this is because factory work often involves operating sophisticated high-tech equipment… But the largest reason for the loss of manufacturing jobs: technology.
- A former CIA interrogator and author of a new book said that when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein had already turned over the running of the country to aides. He was spending all his time writing a novel.
- The long-dead French artist Marcel Duchamp created a stir a century ago by hanging a porcelain urinal in an art exhibit, and giving it the name: Fountain. Some in the art world considered this a ‘masterpiece.’ The artwork was attacked and smashed in 1993 by a man who, incredibly, attacked it again in 2006. He was fined $230,000. An identical ‘artwork’ hangs in the Plumbing Museum in Watertown. So far, it has not been attacked.
- Scientists at MIT and Berkeley have designed a device that uses air to create water. A special powder is left overnight in a container, and sunlight the next day heats the powder, releasing the water.
- Boston Globe, April 25: “HASBRO PROFIT JUMPS ON SUCCESS OF TOILET GAME”. The toy manufacturer’s revenue passed Mattel for the first time in 17 years thanks to a hot new board game called Toilet Trouble. Players take turns flushing a plastic toilet that spits water in their faces. Gee, sounds fun.
“Be Well, Do Good Work, and Keep in Touch.” – Garrison Keilor
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