Developer sees glass half-full on commercial real estate

One of Boston’s top developers, a self-described half-glass-full guy, says he remains bullish on commercial real estate despite the rise of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic.

 Tom O’Brien, the founding partner and managing director of the HYM Investment Group, has two big projects under development – a massive mixed-use complex at the site of Suffolk Downs in East Boston and a mixed-use project called Bulfinch Crossing at the former Government Center garage. Combined, the two projects call for 6.35 million square feet of office space.

 O’Brien acknowledges the nature of office work has changed during COVID, but he doesn’t think the change will affect commercial real estate as much as some people think.

 “I’m not part of the hand-wringing crowd that says there’s going to be a drastic reduction in office,” O’Brien said on The Codcast. “I do think that the way people work will change, that’s for sure. It will be more flexible. But we still fundamentally need offices; we need cities because those are the places where people gather. That’s where they collaborate. That’s where they produce good ideas. That’s where we’re able to converse with one another. That’s still the future of cities and office.”

 State Street Bank announced in 2019 that it was moving its headquarters from 1 Lincoln St. to Bulfinch Crossing and occupying 510,000 square feet. O’Brien said State Street is not planning to reduce its footprint in the new building, although the company is paring back its office space elsewhere.

 O’Brien said prospective tenants are still trying to decide how much space they need post-COVID. Some, he said, may actually end up purchasing more space to spread their employees out more, while others may cut back and make do with less space.

 “It’s a mix,” he said. “There could be some reduction, but I don’t see a drastic reduction.”

 He said one factor in his favor at Suffolk Downs is space set aside for life sciences companies, which are thriving and growing. “That space is doing very, very well,” he said,

 O’Brien said the fundamentals of the office market remain strong. With his own firm, O’Brien said, he has noticed the difference at meetings where some people are attending in person and some are there via Zoom.

 “The people who are on Zoom during a meeting when people are there in person, it just doesn’t work,” he said. “You can’t fully participate as a Zoom person while people are in the room. What’s going to end up happening is those sorts of awkward situations are going to drive this kind of return to the office process.”

 The developer said he’s been through recessions before in Boston and this one may pose a tougher recovery, in part because hospitals and universities, which often pursue capital projects during the downturns, haven’t been able to do so this time because they’ve been hard hit by COVID-19.

 But O’Brien said he thinks the fundamentals in Boston are sound. “No matter how we get into the recession, no matter where we go, at the end of the day Boston still ends up being a place that [lines up] well within the world economy and remains a popular place,” he said. “For the most part, Boston is going to find itself in the right place again.”

 O’Brien said his gut tells him the ghost town that is currently Boston will return to its crowded state again.

 “We’re all anxious to get back out there, see people again. Boston is such a small town,” he said. “I would suggest there’s going to be an explosion of people wanting to be outside, wanting to go to events, going to restaurants, going to hear music. It’s going to be a really breathtaking opportunity to get back and re-engage with people. I’m looking forward to it, and I know millions of people are as well.”




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The economic development bill now on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk would seal no-fault eviction records. (MassLive)


Business leaders who were initially wary of former union leader Marty Walsh at the helm of Boston city government quickly warmed to his business-friendly ways. (Boston Globe


Students in Mount Wachusett Community College’s nursing program are frustrated that their graduation date was suddenly delayed because of a lack of available clinical placements due to the pandemic. (MassLive)

A significant increase in opioid-related overdoses on Cape Cod is blamed on COVID-19 lockdowns. (Cape Cod Times)

Hundreds of Massachusetts first responders – police, firefighters and EMS – will start receiving COVID-19 vaccines today. (MassLive)


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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows what was done to her office in the attempted takeover of the Capitol and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger walks through Trump’s call pressuring him to find enough votes to overturn the results. Raffensperger also documents how Rudy Giuliani falsely alleged election fraud. (60 Minutes)

In his first interview since the mob invasion of the Capitol, outgoing Capitol Police Steven Sund said he made repeated requests for more help prior to and during Wednesday’s riot but was rebuffed. (Washington Post)

President-elect Biden is tapping William Burns, a career diplomat, to be director of the CIA. (New York Times

Therese Duke, a UMass Memorial Health Care employee, is identified as a pro-Trump protester in Washington who grabbed a US Capitol police officer then was punched in the face. A Central Massachusetts restaurant owner, Jeff Eller, is criticized for traveling to Washington and describing the protests as peaceful. (MassLive)

President Trump is giving New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Associated Press)


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Michelle Wu, who declared her candidacy for mayor last fall, picks up a high-profile endorsement from her former Harvard law professor, Elizabeth Warren. (Boston Globe)

Republican strategists say President Trump’s obsession with conspiracy theories pushing the idea that the presidential election was stolen from him — and his preoccupation with his own fate at the expense of the looming dual Senate runoffs in Georgia — wound up costing the party control of the Senate. (Washington Post

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Worcester’s hot real estate market means property assessments are rising so property taxes are going up. (Telegram & Gazette)


The Ashland Public Schools are offering free COVID-19 tests to all students, teachers, and administrators today. (MetroWest Daily News)

Worcester Tech makes changes to its admissions policy for next year on an emergency basis, to make it more equitable, with a longer-term analysis planned for the future. (Telegram & Gazette)


A judge suggests that a Lawrence man who is facing charges for running over a police officer’s foot while fleeing a traffic stop was racially profiled when he was pulled over. (Salem News)

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Nancy Bush Ellis, a Massachusetts resident whose own politics were of a more liberal Democratic stripe but who was a devoted and fervent supporter of her brother and nephew, who both became Republican presidents, died at age 94. (New York Times