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Walsh orders a stop to construction projects in Boston

Construction cranes at the Winthrop Center skyscraper project in Boston's Financial District.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The coronavirus crisis is even bringing Boston’s long-running building boom to a halt.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Monday ordered a stop to all construction projects in the city, citing concerns about worker safety and a need to blunt the spread of the highly contagious virus.

“Our primary objective right now is slowing the spread and flattening the curve so that our medical centers don’t get overwhelmed,” Walsh said.

Mayor Walsh shuts down construction projects in Boston due to coronavirus
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Monday ordered a halt to construction projects in the city amid concerns about worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

The move will bring billions of dollars of construction work to an abrupt halt, leaving the prospect of half-finished office towers and apartment buildings all over town, at least for the time being. Even Monday morning, big construction sites downtown were full of workers in bright shirts and hard hats continuing to run cranes and lay floors in office towers.


Now, those workers will have the rest of the week to secure their sites, after which only skeleton crews will be allowed access, for safety purposes. Walsh said the city will review the shutdown in 14 days to determine whether it can be lifted.

It will also idle tens of thousands of workers in an industry Walsh described as “at the core of Boston’s economy.”

While many should be eligible for unemployment benefits, they’ll certainly take a hit from smaller paychecks, said Tom Flynn, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. But he also noted that the construction industry is cyclical and workers are used to occasionally being without a job. Flynn said he supports any move that will keep workers safe and help blunt the spread of the virus.

“We’re in a national crisis here,” Flynn said. “Our members certainly understand the significance of getting this under control and they’ll do everything to support the mayor’s decision to minimize the effects of coronavirus.”

It’s not clear who will bear the cost of delaying billions of dollars worth of construction. The cost will be substantial even if the shutdown is relatively brief. A web of investors, developers, large general contractors, and smaller subcontractors all have money on the line in a major project, and often promise firm delivery dates to potential tenants. The longer the shutdown, the more those costs will grow.


Representatives for several prominent Boston developers said Monday afternoon that they were scrambling to sort out the ramifications. Tamara Small, CEO of commercial real estate trade group NAIOP Massachusetts, said her members have focused in recent days on creating safe work places for their construction crews, but had little advance notice that such a dramatic shutdown was coming.

“We had a call with all the major developers in town this morning and no one had been contacted,” Small said. “The development industry was very much surprised.”

Executives with two large Boston-area construction contractors, Consigli Construction Co. and Commodore Builders, said they will work closely with the city to ensure safe shutdowns. Still, the fact that this halt applies only to the City of Boston — for now — may raise questions for some workers at companies that operate regionally, said Commodore CEO Joe Albanese.

“People working outside of Boston may be scratching their heads wondering why it’s safe for them to work,” said Albanese, who said 25 of Commodore’s 35 active projects are in the city. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other cities and towns follow suit.”


Walsh, himself a former laborer and longtime construction union leader who has pushed the city to build roughly 30,000 new homes in the last few years, said he hopes that the shutdown will be short-lived and that construction workers will be “the first workers back to work.”

But, he said, closing down busy job sites is a smart thing to do.

“This is a difficult decision to make, just like all the decisions we’ve had to make,” he said. “Then a few days go by and you realize it wasn’t that difficult after all.”

Your 60-second guide to social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak
With information limited on how we should go about keeping our distance, the Globe asked a number of public health experts for their recommendations. (Video by Caitlin Healy/Globe Staff, Reporting by Dugan Arnett/Globe Staff, Animation by Brendan Lynch/Globe Staff)

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him @bytimlogan.