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Anxiety is mounting in Boston’s real estate community over Wu’s bold agenda. But is it warranted?
The short answer is we’ll see, but it’s complicated.
Developers, investors, brokers and other real estate types were hit with not one but two tremors last week emanating from Boston City Hall.
The first shock came Monday, when Boston Mayor Michelle Wu unveiled plans for a nearly clean sweep of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals that would replace 10 of the current 14 members.
Slated for replacement are two long-time ZBA members and key players on the board, now former chair Christine Araujo and labor leader Mark Erlich, who, when they leave, will take with them decades of institutional knowledge.
Given the zoning board is probably one of the busiest governmental panels in the city and plays a major role in reviewing small and middling-sized housing and other projects, that could be a concern.
Then on Thursday, Wu unveiled a proposal to accelerate efforts to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings in Boston.
All new projects in Boston larger than 20,000 square feet would be required to be net-zero carbon from the day they open, Wu announced in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
And, oh yah, the moves come as the Wu administration lobbies to take part in a state pilot program to ban new gas hook-ups and weighs bringing back some form of rent control.
To say there is considerable anxiety in the real estate community – or for that business community as a whole – would probably be an understatement.
While the idea of resurrecting rent control is hotly contested, most real estate types understand the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
But the concern is that Boston’s new mayor may be pushing too much change too fast at a time when inflation is surging and a recession is looking more likely by the week. The result, some fear, could be badly needed new apartment buildings and other housing put on hold, or cancelled altogether.
One sage Boston political observer reminded Contrarian Boston how now former Mayor Marty Walsh also initially faced a great deal of skepticism from the business community given his background as a labor leader.
This time, though, things seem a bit more complicated.
Another newsroom vanishes: The Sun sets on Lowell’s longtime newsroom
By Mark Pickering
(An earlier version did not include the proper byline. Our apologies for any confusion.)
The Lowell Sun, started in the 19th century, ultimately took its namesake city out of the paper’s masthead in a bid to emphasize regional coverage. Now, The Sun’s venture capitalist owner has taken the paper – and its storied newsroom ‑ out of the city entirely.
The last known address for The Sun, now owned by MediaNews Group, was 491 Dutton St. in Lowell. Phone calls and emails asking for comment from The Sun’s publisher and editor were not returned.
Clearly, the situation cried out for a road trip to the historical city. As previously reported by Contrarian Boston, the chain has abandoned its Boston Herald offices. Left behind were furniture and decorations, including fabulous photos taken by Herald staffers ‑ before MediaNews took over in 2018.
For its part, The Sun had long been a fixture of Lowell’s downtown area, having outlasted or bought out its newspaper rivals while weathering the ups and downs of generations of industry, from the departure of the textile mills to the rise and fall of Wang Laboratories.
The question now at hand: Will The Sun survive in the time of Zoom and video-conferencing?
On the edge of Lowell’s downtown, the red-brick Dutton Street building used to house the now-defunct American Textile History Museum. Across busy Dutton Street is an old canal and a set of railroad tracks that harken back to the city’s bustling textile era.
A woman in the building’s lobby suggested The Sun might be on the second floor. There, hallways were still lined with historical equipment, such as looms, and framed photographs left behind by the textile museum.
There, too, was large and attractive metal signage that said: “The Lowell Sun, serving Northern Middlesex County.” An office door next to the signs seemed to offer some possibility of life.
However, no one answered the door. And no one answered phone calls to the receptionist or any other Sun department listed on the website.
On the other hand, talk with current tenants yielded a general agreement: The Sun was gone.
The Sun’s last known address: Cluttered with remnants of a defunct museum and eerily empty. (photo by Mark Pickering)
That news also meant the Herald had flown the coop as well. As reported by Dan Kennedy’s Media Nation, in August 2020 a sign at the Herald’s Braintree office said “All items should be forwarded to Boston Herald, c/o Lowell Sun, 491 Dutton St., Lowell.”
For the city of Lowell, the disappearance of The Sun marks the end of an entire era. For decades, the publishers of such papers were local kings that often built impressive headquarters. And the papers were the prime way for residents to keep up with local news.
The city’s website notes that “The Lowell Sun Building in Kearney Square is … a very early example of a skyscraper.” The 10-story building, which now houses apartments, was built from 1912 to 1914. It still sports two giant “Sun” signs atop it.
In fact, the paper had been headquartered at various spots in the downtown’s Kearney Square for years before the move to 491 Dutton St.
Now, The Sun and Boston Herald are part of a movement ‑ likely speeded up by the pandemic ‑ that has papers printing and posting on the web – even while having no actual newsroom. The Poynter Institute said the no-newsroom list includes such top-tier newspapers as New York’s Daily News and the Hartford Courant, both part of Tribune Publishing.
Alden Global Capital, the money behind MediaNews, bought Tribune Publishing in June 2021 for $631 million. The Poynter op-ed adds: “Disposing of real estate is a big part of the hedge fund’s cost-cutting playbook.”
The editorial department’s arrangement was seemingly confirmed by a reporter’s tweet in response to Contrarian Boston’s article on the Herald. The new normal: “Newsroom” meetings are on Zoom.
Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.
Drawing a blank: Trumpie-dominated MassGOP leaves key state legislator and critic off list of “our candidates”
State Rep. Shawn Dooley is fuming, and rightfully so.
The moderate Norfolk Republican is looking to move up into the state Senate and is in a tight race against an incumbent Democrat, state Sen. Becca Rausch.
It’s one of the few races in the state that Republicans have a reasonable shot at winning, with a revamp of Rausch’s district having arguably given her GOP challenger an advantage.
Dooley is also a prominent member of the state Republican party committee, and the only House member running for a seat in the Senate.
But in “our candidates” section on the MassGOP website, Dooley’s name is missing from the list of Republican candidates.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican, is running for a state senate seat. Despite being one of the few MassGOP candidates with a decent chance of winning, the state party has left his name off its list of “our candidates.”
Are we looking at another act of petty revenge on part of Jim Lyons, the Trumpie MassGOP chair?
Well it just happens that Dooley is an outspoken critic of the rogue MassGOP chair, having come within two votes of beating him for the job of state party chairman.
All of which comes on the heels of photo-gate, in which Lyons apparently refused to run a picture of the MassGOP’s most promising candidate for statewide office.
Here’s a very funny piece by Globe columnist Scott Lehigh in which Lyons gives all sorts of excuses as to why the MassGOP website does not include a photo of Anthony Amore, director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner and the party’s candidate for state auditor.
And unlike Trump fanboy and gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, who is trailing his Democratic rival, Maura Healey, by more than 25 points, Amore, backed strongly by Gov. Charlie Baker, has a shot at winning.
But like Dooley, Amore has also been no fan of the direction of the MassGOP under Lyons, which has aligned itself with Trump while deriding Baker every chance it gets.
Hence, no photo on the state party website.
Or, as Dooley called it in an email, it’s just more “petty trash” from the Trumpies who have hijacked the once-proud Massachusetts Republican Party.
P.S. State GOP committee members are calling up national party chair Ronna McDaniel to “crack down on state GOP chair Jim Lyons’ sabotage” of Amore’s campaign for state auditor, Frank Phillips, former Globe State House bureau chief, reports on Twitter.
A bubble ready to burst? Life sciences companies scale back expansions
It’s happening nationally, and Greater Boston is leading the trend, according to a new report by top commercial real estate firm JLL.
Demand for new lab space plunged 38 percent this year in the Boston area, falling to 4.1 million square feet, down from 7.1 million last year, JLL reports.
Venture capital companies ratcheted back their lending to the life sciences sector, reining in the ability of companies expand, according to Banker & Tradesman.
Massachusetts life sciences firms took in $5.1 billion in venture funding during the first half of 2022, significantly off last year’s pace.
Quiet political exit for Baker? “Doughnut breakfast sandwich, selfies, ribbon-cuttings: Baker quietly taking local roads to exit” Boston Globe
A billion here, a billion there, and soon we’re talking real money: “MBTA needs another $1 billion to fund Orange, Red Line improvements” Boston Herald
Please, we are all ears: “A roadmap for fixing the MBTA”
About Contrarian Boston
I have fielded emails over the past couple of months 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 Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 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.
Thanks for reading Contrarian Boston! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.