All that buzz: Downtown Crossing gets help from taxes that businesses want to pay

Rosemary Sansone
Rosemary Sansone Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

Not long ago Downtown Crossing became a ghost town at night, after the last rush of commuters hopped on their trains.

There are many reasons the place now buzzes in the evening: Theaters have been opened or revived; Suffolk University and Emerson College have expanded their presence; merchants such as Primark and Roche Bros. have moved in; and new condos have begun to create a 24/7 neighborhood that didn’t exist before.

Connecting it all is the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, led since its inception by president Rosemarie Sansone.

Much has changed since the BID began collecting revenue from downtown property owners in 2011. Its annual budget has nearly tripled to $6.7 million since then, with almost half going to cleaning and hospitality services (largely handled through a contractor).


Sansone and her 10-person team must be doing something right: Nearly every property owner in the district recently voted to renew the BID taxes for another five years.

Another interesting twist: the area’s evolution into an innovation district of sorts. Startups and established tech firms have set up shop, seeking cheaper rents than those found in the Seaport District and Kendall Square and access to multiple MBTA stations. Among the companies that recently signed new leases: VMware, Salsify, and Analog Devices.

More than 1,000 residential units have opened in the district since 2009, and nearly 13,000 people call Downtown Crossing home, according to the BID’s latest annual report, going out to members this month.

But Sansone isn’t satisfied. She wants to see more nighttime events, like the Illuminus art and light festival, which drew more than 50,000 people last fall and returns in November. She also wants to see more outdoor spaces created: Think of the plaza that just opened along the Tontine Crescent section of Franklin Street, with financial help from Millennium Partners.


And despite new tenants moving in, there are still a number of vacant storefronts, most notably the long-empty former Barnes & Noble building. That one is getting a long-overdue makeover by its new owner, L3 Capital.

Sansone is also waiting to see what Midwood Investment & Development does to revive plans for its “One Bromfield” block.

“It’s been a series of transformations, from one end of the district to another,” Sansone says. “There are areas that are still under transformation. Every time a block gets redeveloped, there’s an enormous infusion of energy that takes place.”

The plot thickens

This page-turner can’t be found on Barnes & Noble’s shelves. You have to go to federal court in New York to find it.

That’s where Demos Parneros filed a blistering lawsuit last week against Barnes & Noble, his former employer. Parneros must have thought he had landed a great job in 2016 when B&N chairman Leonard Riggio hired him to be chief operating officer, with a path toward the chief executive’s job. Until that time, Parneros had spent the bulk of his career at Framingham-based Staples, working his way up from store manager to become one of the office supplier’s top executives.

The Massachusetts resident became CEO at the New York-based bookstore chain in 2017. But that dream job turned into a nightmare, at least the way Parneros tells it in court files. After working to turn the struggling company’s fortunes around — assembling a new team of managers and rebuilding damaged relationships with publishers —


Parneros received glowing reviews from Riggio, board members, and the investment community, he says.

Then, in July, he was suddenly informed he would be fired for violating the company’s sexual harassment policy. Parneros, in his suit, says he did nothing wrong. There was some misunderstanding about the way he talked with an executive assistant about vacationing in Canada, he said, but that was patched up.

Parneros claims he lost his job because Riggio was upset that an unspecified book retailer’s offer to acquire Barnes & Noble fell through. He describes Riggio as a “volatile founder who refuses to relinquish control.”

Parneros says he wants more than $4 million due him in severance pay, and for B&N to stop giving a false reason for his dismissal.

In a prepared statement, Barnes & Noble’s board stuck by Riggio while offering harsh words for Parneros, describing the lawsuit as a document packed with lies and mischaracterizations, aimed at extorting money from the company. Parneros, the board said, violated the company’s high standards with “blatantly inappropriate behavior.”

His termination has made it tough for him to land a new gig. But the lawsuit might also make it tough on B&N, as it seeks to fill Parneros’ old job.

Number one and more

Could the commercial real estate giant CBRE become even more dominant in Massachusetts, where it’s already number one?

The industry is about to find out. Los Angeles-based CBRE just inked a deal to buy out Whittier Partners Group in their Boston joint venture, CBRE/New England. This was the second part of a two-step strategy to expand here, after CBRE lured a team of about 100 people, led by Steve Purpura, away from Transwestern’s local office in February.


“Boston is a gateway market,” says Jack Durburg, CBRE’s global chief operating officer. “It’s one of the most important cities in the world.”

CBRE and Whittier formed the joint venture in 1997, when Whittier was looking for a growth partner. The 60-plus Whittier partners there now are being bought out by CBRE for their shares in the venture, but will continue to work at the firm after the transition.

Among those sticking around: Andy Hoar and Kevin Doyle, top executives at CBRE/New England, who will continue to lead the local operations. CBRE employs about 1,200 people in the region, including 450 from the CBRE/New England brokerage and 650 from other CBRE commercial real estate services, such as engineers and workplace strategy advisers.

“Our goal is to continue to expand and grow with the services that we’re providing our clients,” Hoar says. “Our strategy is to be adding people in Massachusetts.”

Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.