The Boston Planning & Development Agency is about to put three real estate consulting teams on speed dial, in part to more easily put surplus city-owned property to good use.
The BPDA board is scheduled on Thursday to approve the assignment of real estate advisory contracts to three groups led by Greystone & Co., Stantec, and HR&A Advisors. The BPDA’s spending on all three would be capped at $900,000 over three years, equaling up to $300,000 a year. This potentially represents a significant increase: Agency officials say they have typically spent $100,000 to $150,000 a year on these kinds of services in the past.
These firms’ tasks will likely include analyzing the development potential of properties under BPDA control, assessing the market value of ground leases, and advising on affordable housing and small business development efforts.
Having these firms on retainer should expedite what can be a time-consuming process of hiring outside consultants each time the BPDA puts a property out for bid or negotiates a new ground lease. The BPDA controls some 300 acres across Boston, much of it in the Raymond L. Flynn marine industrial park or the Charlestown Navy Yard, but also scattered around downtown, the South End, Roxbury, and other neighborhoods. All told, buildings on BPDA-controlled land total more than 8 million square feet of space.
“When an urgent, important question comes up about the use of public land, we want to have the right partners already here to be able to answer that question,” said Devin Quirk, the BPDA’s director of real estate. “The most important thing is to have teams that have deep market knowledge that can take the landowner perspective [and] they can take the viewpoint of the private partner coming to the deal.”
The BPDA sought proposals in December, and received responses from 10 consulting teams. They picked three, in part, to have backups in case a conflict of interest arises. The Greystone team includes Cushman & Wakefield, Hawthorne Partners, and Dream Collaborative. Stantec, meanwhile, partnered with Lincoln Property Co., Issues & Action, and Bennett Midland. (HR&A did not name any subconsultants.)
Quirk said there’s no particular project that is precipitating this shift, but it could help projects such as the long-stalled redevelopment of an eight acre-spot on Tremont Street in Roxbury known as “Parcel P3.” The BPDA is accepting a new round of bids from would-be developers through next Wednesday.
This move to have consultants on hand was set in motion a year ago, well before Mayor Michelle Wu’s election. But the timing is fortuitous, in part because the BPDA will be better equipped to respond to questions from newcomers in City Hall about land and properties under its control.
Additionally, Wu has asked city agencies to audit their vacant and underutilized properties to identify opportunities to build more housing. Those audits, primarily taking place at the BPDA and the city’s housing office, are nearing completion.
Jared Ross, a land-use lawyer in the Boston office of Day Pitney, pointed to another benefit to the BPDA’s establishment of a close network of advisors.
“There’s some institutional knowledge that is acquired when you are working on these issues, on a day-over-day basis,” Ross said. “I think that’s helpful.”