The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many executives to rethink their Boston offices. But Daren Bascome and the marketing agency he founded, Proverb, has doubled down on the city and its future.
Proverb decided to buy its new office, a long-vacant retail condo on Fay Street in the South End, and recently relocated there from rented space nearby.
Now, the agency’s nearly 20 employees are coming in at least on a part-time basis. Bascome suspects this hybrid approach is here to stay, but he also welcomes the opportunity to collaborate in person again and build a sense of culture.
“We’re taking the long view that cities are going to thrive,” Bascome said. “After pandemics, cities bounce back.”
Chris Needham, managing partner at Proverb, said her colleagues have been reenergized by working together face-to-face again. Prices for spaces like Proverb’s were falling because of the pandemic, Needham said, so she and Bascome saw a golden opportunity. “Daren often says a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” Needham said.
Plus, the storefront increases Proverb’s visibility. “It’s a way of creating more exposure for the business [while] underscoring our commitment to the South End,” Bascome said.
The South End move isn’t the only thing increasing Proverb’s visibility these days. The firm, perhaps best known for its “place-making” services, played a critical role in the “All Inclusive Boston” marketing campaign for the city, launched with partners Colette Phillips and the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Other recent assignments include work for Mass General Brigham (the hospital group formerly known as Partners HealthCare) and Tishman Speyer, the New York developer that Harvard University picked to start building its Enterprise Research Campus in Allston.
The mission is personal for Bascome with one new client in particular: the Bermuda Tourism Authority. That’s because he grew up in Bermuda and still has plenty of friends and family members there. Now, he is leading the rebranding of his homeland.
“Bermuda is kind of the nearest faraway place,” Bascome said. “It’s not just that it’s close but that it offers a completely different culture and a different lifestyle. … We would like to showcase a more authentic version of the island and present its people alongside its physical characteristics.”
From faxes to Fribbles on Fan Pier
MassMutual’s new 17-story office tower on Fan Pier took about 2 1/2 years to build. But like many developments in this town, the building’s back story goes back much longer than that.
For Roger Crandall, chief executive of the Springfield-based insurer, the tale begins in 2005. As he told the crowd at a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Wednesday, the then-chief investment officer had heard from David Reilly, who ran MassMutual’s real estate investment affiliate at the time.
“This started so long ago, that Dave sent me a fax,” Crandall said. “For those of you who don’t know what a fax is, it’s really odd.”
That fax led to a partnership between developer Joe Fallon and MassMutual. Together, they bought the 20-acre Fan Pier from the Pritzker family and built out its windswept parking lots. Two towers for Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Two high-end condo towers. And now, MassMutual’s new $300 million Boston home.
Crandall said he kept the shovel from the 2019 groundbreaking. “Joe, you have lots of shovels,” Crandall said to Fallon from the podium. “I don’t have that many shovels.”
Employees celebrated with lobster rolls and Fribbles, that frosty frappe made famous by the Springfield-born Friendly’s ice cream shop chain.
Even Governor Charlie Baker couldn’t resist, holding forth with reporters after the event with a near-empty Fribble cup in hand.
“When Roger Crandall said there was going to be a Fribble, I got particularly excited,” Baker said.
A new model for big development deals
There’s been a lot of talk around Boston lately about the “Massport Model,” in which a development team’s diversity makes up 25 percent of the scoring when picking a winning bidder for a public property.
Last Wednesday, real estate trade group NAIOP Massachusetts revisited the original Massport Model project, the Omni Boston Hotel in the Seaport, at a panel discussion in that newly opened hotel.
Developer Richard Taylor talked about how he helped raise $7 million in equity investments from other people of color for the Omni, which went up on Massport-owned land across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Taylor started with a group of people who regularly met up at the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel. Robin Brown was the hotel’s general manager at the time, and eventually became another key player in on the Omni project. Taylor told the crowd, with Brown at his side, that Brown went out of his way to make everyone feel welcome.
In total, they involved nearly 40 minority investors, with initial investments varying from $50,000 to $1 million.
Massport continued the approach for two other nearby parcels, one being developed by Boston Global Investors, led by John Hynes, and the other by Lincoln Property Co. (Taylor said about $20 million was raised from people of color for both of those projects.) Tishman Speyer and Harvard University also used the model for the first phase of Harvard’s Enterprise Research Campus in Allston. (That’s another $30 million.)
Now, Taylor is making the case that the Boston Planning & Development Agency should impose similar requirements on major private developments in the city. Taylor, who is also director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University, penned a column in the Globe last week with Civic Action Project cofounder Steve Crosby and Jason Desrosier, manager of community action at the Allston Brighton CDC, arguing that point.
“The great thing about it is it spreads economic prosperity,” Taylor said in an interview. “If you really want to break this open and accelerate it, you’ve got [to involve] the private parcels.”
Skipping out to Boston
When President Joe Biden held his Cabinet meeting on Friday, there was at least one key person missing: US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
That’s because Tai was in Boston, headlining the New England Council’s first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Tai joined US Representative Richie Neal, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a discussion about trade policy with UMass President Marty Meehan, at the UMass Club.
Tai had previously worked closely with Neal, as trade counsel with the committee he chairs; they were instrumental in hammering out the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement in late 2019. And Meehan, of course, served with Neal in Congress; the two shared an apartment in Washington for more than a decade.
Neal seemed proud that Tai skipped the Cabinet meeting for the New England Council.
“She had to choose between the Ways and Means chairman and the president,” Neal joked. “That’s why I always like Ways and Means people. She knew where she wanted to be.”
Meehan, for his part, sounded incredulous.
“In my years in Congress, I had a lot of folks from the Cabinet come up,” Meehan said. “But if any president had a Cabinet meeting and they heard they were in Meehan’s district, the president would say, no matter which president it was, ‘Tell them to get their ass back.’”