Real estate

Downtown dilemma: How can Boston revive its empty office buildings?

In a post-COVID world, remote or hybrid work has become the norm, leaving many downtown office buildings empty

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Experts are warning that empty office space in Boston, brought on by the pandemic, could create financial problems for the city.

NBC10 Boston went inside a past project that could be used as a model to revive Downtown Boston.



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The Godfrey Hotel project completed in 2016 was ahead of its time. The space was once an old historic office building and now it’s a modern hotel.

In a post-COVID world, remote or hybrid work has become the norm, leaving many downtown office buildings empty.

In May, the commercial vacancy rate in the city was around 15%, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

A recent report from Tufts University says in the next five years, Boston is likely to face a shortfall of more than a billion dollars in revenue because of vacant office space.

“Re-using buildings is just part of Yankee ingenuity that we have here in Boston,” said Arthur Jemison, chief of planning for the City of Boston.

Right now the focus is on converting empty office space into housing. BPDA announced a program in October that offers up to 75% in tax breaks to builders who convert offices into residential buildings.

Last week Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced the extension of a program to convert empty office space into housing. Massachusetts will now offer $15 million in funding to make this happen in addition to the city’s incentive program which has been in place since last fall.

So far two projects have been approved, one on Devonshire Street that will have 95 units and another on Franklin Street that will have 18.

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“It’s a way of taking underutilized office space and turning it into units to help us with our housing crisis in the region,” said Jemison.

Back at the Godfrey, principal architect Ellen Anselone said this project could be used as a model.

“When this was done, there was not a lot happening down here so the Godfrey really activated this section of Washington Street,” said Anselone.

She said whether it’s a hotel or apartment building, converting an empty space can revitalize a whole area and could help solve the city’s problem.

“I think it could. I think it really is thinking outside of the box on how to re-imagine the buildings and spaces,” said Anselone.

Jemison said the City of Boston is open to all ideas.

“We’re going to continue to have an all of the above approach and if there’s new ideas out there about doing it , we’re going to embrace them,” he said.

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