Boston’s once-grubby waterfront has come a long way in the five decades since Boston Harbor Cruises first docked its fleet at Long Wharf.
The buildings are fancier, the real estate far more valuable. But Boston’s dominant ferry company says its headquarters space on Long Wharf is governed by a state law that protects marine-related tenants from market forces. As BHC prepares for its busy season, the company is going to court in a fight with its landlord.
This lawsuit is more than a rent dispute. BHC is testing the waters of how the state law, known as Chapter 91, applies to water-oriented companies. The law has been prominent in fights for public access to the harbor. (See: the Boston Harbor Garage or 150 Seaport Blvd.) But it also plays a key role in protecting businesses like BHC.
Don’t worry. Codzilla isn’t going anywhere. BHC has a separate lease with the city to dock its boats there. But BHC wants to consolidate its Charlestown offices at Long Wharf, increasing the company’s nearly 2,500 square feet there to 7,000, and is having a hard time. Principal Alison Nolan says its administrative staff should be close to its boats and customers, for a variety of reasons.
BHC made its case in a lawsuit against a Capital Properties affiliate last week in Suffolk Superior Court. (A representative for the landlord says it doesn’t comment on litigation.) BHC says it deserves a rent reduction as it seeks more office space on the wharf, to match nearby rates for water-dependent uses, but the landlord insists on market-rate office rents. BHC claims the landlord is refusing to negotiate.
This lawsuit could determine the headquarters’ fate. But it could also have ripple effects across Boston’s now-swanky waterfront.Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.