The Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s fast-changing Seaport District is hard to define.
Long a mecca for interior designers, offering a maze of furniture shops and showrooms, it’s also become a hub for advanced manufacturing, future home of America’s Test Kitchen, and future headquarters of footwear and clothing company Reebok. There’s even a sprawling antiques market that’s open to the public.
Michael Phillips, principal and president of Atlanta- and New York-based Jamestown Properties, says this is what a modern manufacturing emporium looks like. Jamestown bought into the massive waterfront structure, a former Army shipping depot built in the early 20th century, just four years ago. “The dream was realized,” Phillips says. “We have people in media, industrial design, program encoding, apparel and leisure prototyping. There’s traditional and innovation industries coming together. It’s amazing to see.”
Not long ago, questions swirled around whether a working blue-collar port and an innovation center could coexist harmoniously. The Boston Design Center had catered to interior designers (it’s also now open to the public) and a smattering of businesses in a warehouse space with soaring ceilings and sweeping views of the harbor. Jamestown bought two properties, the design center and a portion of what was known as the Bronstein Building (Related Beal now owns the rest) for a total of $120 million in 2013.
Jamestown began a $100 million overhaul of the eight-story behemoth, which holds about 1.4 million square feet of retail and office space — roughly the size of the Prudential Tower. Once Reebok moves in, the space will be 87 percent occupied.
In addition to the 70 designer showrooms, other new tenants include architects Elkus Manfredi, design firm Continuum, and nuTonomy, which develops software for driverless vehicles — and tests it out in cars in an abutting parking lot.
Amenities have grown as well. Vendors in shops and shipping-container kiosks on the ground floor serve coffee and food on what were once loading docks. There are event spaces and programming. And Reebok, part of Adidas AG, will have an on-site gym in addition to moving 700 employees to the site.
Phillips said it’s been exciting to watch it evolve. “I liken it to a barn raising,” he says.