Even inflation is higher in Boston | Construction tragedies surge | About Contrarian Boston |
Can labs and luxury condos coexist? Natick Mall proposal offers test case
Word is residents at the luxury Nouvelle condo tower at the Natick Mall are none too happy about plans to convert their beloved Neiman Marcus into a lab space and offices.
And we wouldn’t be surprised if Nouvelle residents turn out in force next Wednesday when the Natick Planning Board takes up a proposal by a Boston developer to transform the posh department store, set to close in September, into region’s newest life science project.
One issue Nouvelle condo owners have their eyes on is a proposal by developer Bulfinch Cos. to effectively add two large floors to the two-story department store building – one for lab space, and effectively another floor on top of that to accommodate a large, rooftop mechanical system.
With the Nouvelle literally right next door to Neiman Marcus, it may not exactly be the view residents at the condo tower bargained on when they plunked down $700,000 or $800,000 for their units.
A section of the proposed new lab and office building, marked “chemical storage” on plans filed with town officials, is also likely to raise some questions.
There’s a bigger issue, and that’s whether coexistence is possible between a booming life sciences sector and residents in the apartment and condo buildings that find themselves in the path of proposed lab and research facilities.
Life sciences companies and developers are eyeing proposals that could triple the amount of lab and biotech manufacturing space in the Boston area to 90 million square feet, leaving our closest rival, San Francisco, in the dust, according to a new report by Colliers.
That’s an immense amount of lab space and it’s not clear where it’s all going to fit. If anything, the Natick Mall lab proposal – and the potential friction with Nouvelle condo owners – is just a taste of things to come.
Shocker: Inflation higher in Greater Boston
Any way you cut it, it is just really expensive to live in the Boston area, and it’s not just our crazy home and condo prices.
Inflation in the Boston area has surged, jumping 10.8 percent (at an annual rate) in the first quarter, up from 6.6 percent during the last quarter of 2021, according to MassBenchmarks, a report on the state and local economy put out by UMass Amherst’s Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
By comparison, inflation across the U.S. rose, but not at anywhere near that rate, hitting 9.2 percent, up from just under 8 percent late last year.
And how did wages stack up? Well, in the Boston area, they rose 12.6 percent in the first quarter. However, after accounting for inflation, workers took home a measly 1.8 percent more, if that.
Rising costs and prices are putting a drag on economic growth, just as the Fed is stepping up with interest rate hikes.
“The outlook for the second and third quarters calls for slow growth, but the level of uncertainty is high,” wrote Alan Clayton-Matthews, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, in the report.
The unsettling surge in Boston area construction accidents
Is it just spate of bad luck? Or is something else going at construction sites across the Boston area?
That’s the question now in the wake of Wednesday’s accident that seriously injured three construction workers during demolition work on an old power plant in South Boston.
Suffolk Construction, the contractor on the job and the city’s largest builder, has halted work on all of its jobsites in Boston through the end of the day Friday for a “safety standdown,” CEO John Fish said in a statement.
Demolition work on the old power station, which dates to 1898, began in December, with Hilco Redevelopment Partners having rolled out plans to redevelop the old power plant site into a 17.7-acre mixed-use complex.
The accident comes just a little over a month after a partial collapse of the Government Center parking garage in downtown Boston sent 51-year-old operating engineer Peter Monsini plunging nine stories to his death. Monsini was dismantling a section of the sprawling, 1960s-era Brutalist-style garage, which developer HYM Investment Group has been taking apart piecemeal over the last few years to make way for new towers and other development.
The Government Center garage collapse remains under investigation by federal OSHA inspectors and local officials.
In addition, over the past 14 months, another five construction workers have been killed in Boston and surrounding communities in accidents on a range of construction sites in Boston, Cambridge, and Newton.
The fatalities include: an employee of an ironworks company who tumbled six stories down a stairwell shaft at a construction site in East Boston; a worker killed by a collapsing stairwell in an East Cambridge parking garage; and two Atlantic Coast Utilities employees who died after being knocked into a nine-foot-deep trench at a worksite in Boston’s Financial District.
It’s worth asking whether contractors and their crews are under pressure to make up for lost time after two years of pandemic-related delays and disruptions.
Also, what about city safety inspectors, and, for that matter, federal safety officials with OSHA? Where are they in all this?
Sounds like it’s time for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu or Gov. Charlie Baker to step up and order a review.
What is Contrarian Boston?
I have fielded emails over the past couple weeks asking what Contrarian Boston is about.
Here’s a link to our mission statement – you can find it in the “about” section.
For a more prosaic, nuts-and-bolts description, read on.
An online newsletter, Contrarian Boston publishes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. In Contrarian Boston you’ll find analysis of the day’s news, and original reporting as well.
Our focus is:
· Politics and all levels of governance, good and bad, with an emphasis on state and local, with some national mixed in;
· Economic growth and business, especially real estate, housing and new development projects;
· The media and why it does what it does;
· Education, from school board spats to the doings of multibillion-dollar university endowments;
· And whatever else catches our fancy.
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