Peer into a crystal ball for a moment, and envision 2023.
In Boston, there are myriad ways to define it: Three years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second year under the Wu mayoral administration. And the first year with a new governor in the Commonwealth.
The Globe asked nine people who touch different facets of life in downtown Boston — business owners, city officials, and event planners among them — what the next 12 months will hold for the heart of the city. Many see a year of “more,” driven by expansion and inclusivity, while others recognize the realities of less: a tougher economy and dwindling COVID funds. Who will be correct? Only time will tell.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Michael Nichols, president of the Downtown Boston BID
The pandemic and the build back from it is an opportunity to be something different than we were before. Next year, you will see more nonprofits, more startups, more cultural activities, and certainly more residents downtown. All of those other uses will fill the vacancy left by office workers, who are not back to the level they were in 2019.
The pandemic was new for us. But times of turmoil in the downtown district are not. Ours in particular has come through war and recessions and depressions and always bounced back. It’ll just be, perhaps, with a different emergence point on what the areas of focus are.
Segun Idowu, chief of economic opportunity and inclusion for the City of Boston
The whole crux of it is redefining whose downtown it is in 2023 and the years after it. We’re going to see more companies opening up. With the vacancies in the area from COVID, the city has launched programs to attract diverse businesses and streamline the event process, so that there can be more fun things happening. Those will draw existing residents from the city, but also visitors from either neighboring towns or states or countries.
Jeffrey Myers, research director of the real estate firm Colliers
2023 will be a little bit more of a cautious year in real estate. That starts with the economy. Look at the most recent statistics on corporate profits and the slowdown in business and residential investments. There’s a lot of apprehension that’s going to impact demand for development.
The overwhelming majority of the space already being built is pre-leased, which is good. But the likelihood of major office groundbreakings downtown [next year] are very limited.
Brian Moy, Chinatown restaurateur behind Shojo and Ruckus
I see a lot of new flavors, new restaurants, in developments that are just now nearing completion, whether that’s because of COVID or not. Increased takeout is here to stay. That has changed our operations.
What I also see a trend towards is more fast, casual, streamlined production. A true scratch kitchen that produces everything fresh on a daily basis is tough. New concepts are going towards heavy prep. It’s also stemming from the quality of life chefs and owners want. We’re constantly working in this industry. Hours are long. And going into that fast casual or heavy prep method of running a restaurant doesn’t really affect the product. There can still be a lot of care and attention and great food. But the way of working will be different in 2023.
Ari Glantz, executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association
Boston doesn’t invest in the sexiest companies. We invest in real businesses. So compared to other markets through the past few years, the investment trends and volatility here has been much more subdued. We’re less subject to the trade winds of the day.
That said, next year, we’re going to continue to see the slow, methodical, incremental increase in biotech investing in Boston, despite the market turbulence that has transpired. That’s not going to shake the Boston [venture capital] community’s commitment to that industry.
Nicole Obi, president and CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts
More money is coming into Boston, whether it’s through the Inflation Reduction Act or the infrastructure bill or ARPA funds. In 2023, I want to be sure that we’re doing everything that we can to elevate the importance of not just talking about being equitable, but to be intentional about funneling that money where it is needed. Because the issue isn’t the lack of capital, it’s getting that money to the Black businesses on the ground — downtown or elsewhere. I don’t know if we’re going to get many more chances to do this. We want to hold feet to the fire and see the follow-through now.
Emily Isenberg, founder of the creative consulting agency Isenberg Projects
Public space is everything. This coming year, finding new ways that people can congregate without wading through a sea of red tape is paramount. In Boston, there has just been a longstanding culture of “no.” But it’s changing.
A lot of the initiatives that amp up the culture and energy of our streets started when [Mayor Michelle] Wu got into office and are going to transpire in real tangible ways this spring. Massport and the city are very eager to support community programs.
They’re changing the permitting infrastructure and measures that would lower the barrier to entry, so that organizations can also hold their own community events. For me, I’m thinking about parklets near downtown. I’m curious what will happen with City Hall Plaza.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts
When it comes to retail downtown, we still have to get more people in desks in 2023 to keep the stores and restaurants in the black. Sixty percent of economists now believe we’re going to fall into a recession next year because of inflation and rising interest rates, which impacts consumers that would come into Boston and spend dollars, but also businesses with thinner margins.
Although the supply chains are doing better, it’s the costs that are hurting smaller businesses. Everything from rents to heat, electricity, and the inventory that they sell to consumers is way up. There are limits to how much you can increase your prices. In the first quarter of 2023, there probably will be some more storefronts that close.
Catherine Peterson, executive director of ArtsBoston
2023 is going to be about the continued and growing impact that the performing arts have in terms of getting people back downtown. Anchor institutions, like the Opera House and the Emerson Colonial Theatre, are bringing collateral business for restaurants and retail and parking garages.
The other thing is that there is vacant space in the city that simply wasn’t there before that could be used for fringe theater, small dance groups, and music. We don’t have a vibrant culture of storefront theater in Boston. One of the long-term goals is making that happen.
Melissa Fetter, owner of Beacon Hill Books; board member of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, WBUR, and the Boston Athenaeum
Let me preface this by saying that I’m an optimist.
It feels like Boston is at an inflection point. As one who moved back here in 2019, I saw the few months before the pandemic and then the recovery. I feel as though this is a city that will come into its own now next year. We really have turned a corner where consumers are walking the talk when it comes to supporting local businesses. Cultural institutions are expanding their footprints and enabling more inclusive programming. The biotech world has brought new, diverse people and financial resources.
I feel like I’m riding a wave with [Beacon Hill Books on Charles Street] that the whole city is riding, and that is one of a city on the ascent.