Since Amazon announced its plans to bring 900 employees to Fort Point, real estate brokers say there’s been an uptick in interest from companies looking to fill empty storefronts near Amazon’s new office on Summer Street. It’s evidence, they say, that the western corner of Fort Point is poised to undergo a transformation as corporate towers teeming with new workers drive foot traffic on the streets below.
Andrea DeSimone, a retail broker with the real estate firm CBRE/New England, said her phone began ringing off the hook shortly after Amazon announced it would take up residence in a 150,000-square-foot building a block from the site of the new General Electric headquarters.
“The demand has picked up significantly” for storefronts that have historically not had much foot traffic during the day, she said. But traffic stands to increase dramatically in 2018, when both GE and Amazon begin moving staff into their new buildings. GE will bring 800 employees to its offices at Necco Court.
The allure, in part, is the demographics of the new employees: well-off GE executives and young, tech-savvy Amazon employees who presumably have money to burn.
“They’re flocking to draft off of the new offices,” DeSimone said of the eager retailers, many of which are service and food businesses hoping to tap into new hordes of hungry masses. “You want to align yourself near those talent pools.”
Priscilla Murphy is hoping those new workers will also be thirsty. When Murphy decided to leave her job at Winston Flowers and open a wine store, Mayhew, she quickly landed on the Fort Point neighborhood as an ideal location. She loved the sleepy, sloping streets, the architecture of the old textile mills, and the confluence of a longstanding artist community with new tech tenants.
“It’s a perfect place for the wine world,” she said.
She started the process of signing a lease in October 2015. A few months later, she learned that General Electric was moving its headquarters a block away from her Melcher Street store, “which made us feel all that much better about it,” she said. The shop, which has a tasting room for parties and corporate events, opened at the end of May. Murphy was just getting to know her neighbors when she received the additional good news that Amazon would be moving in across the street. “It’s even more fortuitous,” she said.
While DeSimone said it may take months before new leases are signed, she’s finding some retailers are drawn to Fort Point’s older, more historic streets, compared to the sea of glass towers in the nearby Seaport.
There’s also the security in knowing other businesses will soon be nearby: The Back Bay restaurant Lolita will open a waterfront outpost at the foot of the Amazon building, and GE is planning to open a museum, a coffee shop, and another channel-facing restaurant in its new space.
The surge in demand for commercial storefronts is also prompting landlords to reassess their tenants and push for higher rents, said Tim Walls, a sales manager with the Conway Cityside real estate firm. He said Marco Polo restaurant, a neighborhood staple for 37 years, recently lost its lease on Summer Street. “Their story is indicative of what’s going on, because there’s so many jobs being created here.”
Retailers looking at the neighborhood also know that the presence of two major companies will have a cascading effect, leading to other corporate leases being signed nearby. The North Carolina business software firm Red Hat, for example, signed a lease for Fort Point soon after GE announced it would be moving its headquarters to Boston. This spring, Red Hat opened its office at 300 A St. in the building adjacent to GE.
“We need to go where the talent is,” Paul Cormier, the company’s president of products and technologies, said shortly after the lease was announced.
It was a similar story in Kendall Square when Amazon decided to set up shop in Cambridge, said Dave Downing, a vice president at GraffitoSP, a retail development firm that has helped fill many of the neighborhood’s storefronts.
‘They’re flocking to draft off of the new offices. You want to align yourself near those talent pools.’Andrea DeSimone, CBRE/New England retail broker
Moving to a place that’s in transition is tricky for stores: Go into a burgeoning neighborhood too early, and you’ll struggle to survive. But waiting too long can mean losing out on available storefronts or paying higher rents as the area takes off.
So while Kendall Square saw an uptick in tech firms at the start of the decade, Amazon’s arrival in 2012 helped store owners feel like it was safe to bet on the neighborhood.
“It reinforced the idea that Kendall had arrived,” he said. “From our standpoint, that was huge for the retailers, as we’d been trying to drag people over there for years.”
Similarly, Fort Point and the nearby Seaport are coming into their own as destinations where people can live, work, shop, eat, and get the services they need, said Yanni Tsipis, a senior vice president at WS Development, which is overseeing the build-out of 23 acres of the Seaport that span Seaport Boulevard and Boston Wharf Road. That’s increasingly important to employers — not to mention the people they’re trying to hire.
“This is about talent, and providing a diversity of experience and amenities and lifestyle options for employees that is going to enable these companies, especially technology companies, to attract and retain the best talent in America,” Tsipis said. “We see that whole ecosystem being created in a way that’s very attractive to employees, and as a result to employers and retailers.”
The changes are thrilling to longtime Fort Point employees who once haunted nearly empty streets. “The neighborhood is really becoming alive,” Bruce Bennett said as he toted a Shake Shack bag back to his office at Vanderweil Engineers. He said the company’s offices have been on Summer Street for nearly two decades, but only now he can run quick errands during breaks.
“There’s a giant CVS right over here,” he said with mock wonder. “We never had anything like that before.”
In a matter of months, Fort Point will be transformed, Downing predicted.
“You’re talking about thousands of new workers that aren’t there today,” he said. “The feeling over there is going to be totally different.”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.