With the local economy humming and development in high gear, there are construction projects underway or in the planning stages throughout Boston and the region. But no place has a higher concentration of development than the Seaport District. A parade of construction cranes has been making its way to the South Boston area, and with a backlog of projects yet to break ground, the procession shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Because the enormous amount of work taking place there is having an outsized impact on the building trades, The Pipeline will be highlighting Seaport District projects in an ongoing series of articles. In this issue, we turn the spotlight on one of our own: GBPCA contractor J.C. Cannistraro. The company redeveloped a two-story, 157,000-square-foot building in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park section of the Seaport that now houses all of its prefabrication and assembly processes in one consolidated plant. You can read about the project elsewhere in this issue.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the South Boston area was a gritty, desolate place characterized by vacant buildings, weed-filled parking lots, and wholesale fishing companies. People who didn’t work in the area might have occasionally visited the three venerable restaurants, Jimmy’s Harborside, Pier 4, and the No Name (only the No Name remains today), but would otherwise have had little reason to venture there.
The area’s fortunes began changing when developments such as the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse and the Seaport Boston Hotel opened around 2000. Things really started heating up once the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center first welcomed visitors in 2004. Developers began buying up parcels and announcing projects around the time that the Convention Center came online, but as was the case throughout the region and around the world, they reined virtually all of them in after the Great Recession landed in late 2007.
Credit the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino for recognizing the area’s untapped potential and rekindling interest in its development. In 2010, his administration produced a bold plan, which it called the “Boston Waterfront Innovation District.”
The name didn’t stick, but the vision did. Developers began converging in South Boston to radically redefine and reshape the previously ignored spot. Significant projects include Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ 1.1 million-square-foot complex at Fan Pier, Skansa’s two office towers on Seaport Boulevard, and Echelon Seaport’s three-building, 1.33 million-square-foot development set on 3.5 acres of what has become prime real estate. The Echelon is notable because it will be bringing over 700 luxury apartments and condos to the area.
“We try always to remember that this is not a development project; this is the creation of a neighborhood,” Yanni Tsipis, senior vice president of Seaport development at WS Development, told Urban Land magazine. Along with the Echelon and other residential complexes, WS’s Boston Seaport will be building places for people to live in an area that, until recently, almost nobody called home. The WS project, however, will dwarf the others.
The developer will be creating 3.2 million square feet of residential space. That is less than half of the total 7.6 million square feet that WS is constructing across a 20-block, 23-acre site in Seaport Square— the largest real estate project that Boston has ever seen. The master plan also calls for 2.8 million square feet of office and research space, 1.1 million square feet of retail, 450,000 square feet of hotel space, and 8.8 acres of open public space. Because of its sheer size, the WS project will be one of the defining components of the entire Seaport District.
“This is a piece of a great American city, and great cities are composed of great streets, public places, and social spaces that happen to have buildings built between them. That is a very important philosophy for us as the stewards of the Seaport,” Tsipis added.
With restaurants, movie theaters, museums, nightclubs, and other attractions now open and in the works, the area is quickly evolving into a self-contained, work-live-play space and a true neighborhood. The Seaport District is practically unrecognizable to long-time Boston-area residents who remember what it looked like before development began in earnest. Things are changing so rapidly, it’s hardly recognizable from just a few years ago.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this type of development at this scale would happen,” says Harry Brett, business manager for Local 12. He estimates that on any given day there are 200 to 300 plumbers from the union working in the Seaport District, and that its impact on the Local is enormous. “Companies want to build here. They are happy to build here,” he adds. “And we’re happy to build it.”