Will Martin Walsh make Boston business friendly?

How streamlined procedures — and rethinking the BRA — would help make the city an easier place to do business

Martin J. Walsh said the City of Boston needs to become a more predictable place to do business.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Martin J. Walsh said the City of Boston needs to become a more predictable place to do business.

Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, a state representative and former labor leader, rode to victory Tuesday with the strong backing of unions. Following the election, Globe columnist Shirley Leung asked Walsh about his views of the business community and whether he’ll make the city more business-friendly. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

From the campaign trail, what did you learn about the business community, and what are the top issues you want to tackle as mayor?

One of the things in the business community is predictability, particularly around the Boston Redevelopment Authority. There’s been a lot of good work coming out of there, and they’ve been doing a lot of developments. But a lot of people feel that they don’t have that predictability, and in some cases it hurts in their financing for the project.

How do you make the process more predictable?

By making sure there’s a streamlined process. Working to make sure the planners get out to the communities earlier, and also work with the developers to make sure that they’re not being held up because of a facade of a building or something like that.

These things can take years. How long should it take?


It really depends on the size of the project, and the location of the project, and the concerns around the project. When we’re talking about a master plan, where it’s two or three or four buildings, it’s going to take longer. But if you’re talking about buildings, a straight-up, 30-story building on an existing downtown lot, it shouldn’t take three years to get that moving, particularly if the financing is in place.

What are the other issues?

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Another issue is the permitting process and licensing in the city. A lot of store owners, when they do a fit out of a building, they have to get so many sign-offs through inspectional services. It starts with the BRA, it goes through board of appeal, then it goes back to the BRA. Then they have to get inspectional services, and then ultimately the fire department has to give them an occupancy permit.

Would you cut out steps?

When a bar is looking to put in a TV, or a restaurant is looking to put a system in for music, I don’t necessarily know if we need permits for that. We’re going to look at that.

How do you make the transition from representing labor to representing the interest of the entire business community? What do you say to people who are worried about that?

Anyone who has concerns, they just don’t know me. Once we have a meeting, they’re going to understand very quickly that I’m open to discussion on anything. Without the success of the business community, in many ways, I can’t do a lot of the things that I want to do to make it a better city.

You have talked about dismantling the BRA as we know it. When would you do that?

Probably make adjustments over the first six months of my administration. There is a lot to do in the beginning. We have to pick a director, and as we pick a director, I’m going to be thinking big picture about what we’re talking about doing here.

Do you have any candidates?


No, but I think we need someone with a strong business background who understands financing of projects. I also think the BRA director should be a good listener, and somebody who can certainly work with the community and surrounds him or herself with strong people.

What do you think of tax incentives? Mayor Menino gave them to plenty of development projects such as Filene’s, Liberty Mutual, Vertex. Is that a tool you will continue to use?

Tax incentives are important in a lot of areas as far as moving some of these projects forward. I don’t want every single deal to be a tax incentive finance deal, but I certainly think that they’re very important.

The Filene’s one, it came after the development had begun, so something like that would concern me a bit about the viability of the project moving forward. But other than that, I’m supportive of them.

The Innovation District was Menino’s baby. How do you feel about the district?

It’s really important to the future, so I want to make sure that it grows. It’s going to attract a lot more business to Boston, and that’s an important piece of moving our economy forward. There’s still a lot of room to grow down there, and I would probably try to pick up where Mayor Menino left off. I’m also very interested in continuing to build and strengthen the Downtown Crossing area.

Are there other Innovation Districts you could create in the city?

We could do a mini one in the Dudley area. Depending on what happens [at Suffolk Downs], East Boston. We can look over there to Hyde Park, and there are parts of Dorchester. There are plenty of places in the city that are kind of industrial [with] land that’s just kind of there and hasn’t really been developed.

Shirley Leung can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.