A digital “Twitter wall” flashes trending neighborhood topics inside the lobby of a new high-rise in the theater district. A freshly built luxury building across town lures affluent young professionals with sunset yoga and hip-hop parties on the pool deck. Downtown, one of San Francisco’s best known restaurateurs, Michael Mina, will craft a new entrée every month for residents of a sleek condo tower. And home owners at a glass skyscraper set to open in 2018 will be able to sip cocktails in private “sky cabanas” overlooking a rooftop pool. They may need to look out the cabanas’ glass walls to remember what city they’re in—Boston.
Boston—a city with a Puritan backstory and an ingrained suspicion of glitz, where a well-preserved Back Bay townhouse has long been the gold standard of top-tier real estate—is embracing the designer high rise. Shiny residential towers are sprouting up across Beantown’s once drab and neglected precincts, emblems of Boston’s boom and its growth as a bigger, more international city.
“I love the historic aspect of Boston, but the old brownstones are not for me,” said Wayne Adams, 31, a software developer and Michigan transplant. After a computer-simulated house tour, he recently paid $1.13 million for a 24th-floor one-bedroom at Pierce Boston, a 30-story geometric glass tower now rising near Fenway Park that will open in 2018.
As a condo owner, he will have access to a private sky deck with an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, and a glass-floored dining room. For an additional $300,000 or so, he can buy one of the building’s 12 private rooftop cabanas.
To some longtime locals, these glassy high-rises might look like they belong in the opening credits of “Miami Vice,” not the home of Paul Revere. But Boston is moving into a dynamic new chapter in its long history.
Between 2010 and 2014, the city’s population grew by 6%—twice the national rate, according to government statistics—with as many as an additional 90,000 new residents projected over the next 14 years. Many are young professionals, drawn by Boston’s growing biotech and pharmaceutical industries, as well as by its hospitals, universities and financial services industry.
Boston has also become more cosmopolitan, with an influx of overseas professionals, students and their families, and the expansion of its international flight service to destinations across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Newly minted Bostonians are flocking to stylish rental apartments and condominiums with 24-hour concierge service and millennial-friendly extras like pet spas, bike garages, and rooftop terraces with fire pits and theaters. Developers are winning over an older, moneyed crowd with multimillion-dollar apartments kitted out with climate-controlled wine rooms and private elevator entrances.
“Starting in 2013, we’re running at about 13 or 14 million feet under construction at any given time—the sheer mass of new development is overwhelmingly residential,” said Brian Golden, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which approves major real-estate development in the city.
These new towers offer residents a built-in lifestyle, with al fresco clambakes, private film screenings and craft beer tastings in clubby lounges and open-air pavilions. Millennium Tower, a 60-story glass skyscraper in downtown Boston slated to open in July, will offer a spa, salon, private theater, fitness center and a residents-only restaurant designed by Mr. Mina, its consulting chef. Millennium’s developer also touts its “La Vie” program: a packed calendar of casino nights, TED-style “fireside chats” by Boston notables, and wine evenings with live music.
According to Millennium Partners’ Richard Baumert, 95% percent of the tower’s 442 condominiums have sold, including a 13,000-square-foot penthouse that had been listed for $37.5 million, now under agreement for an undisclosed sales price.
Carlton and Zena Savage-Aird are among Millennium Towers’ new owners. Longtime Bostonians, the Airds bought a $1.64 million condominium in 2014 in the 15-story Millennium Place, another downtown Millennium Partners development that opened in 2013. Just four months after moving in, the Airds decided to upgrade to a $2.975 million condominium in the then-unbuilt Millennium Tower.
“It’s a 24-hour community within the confines of a building—you can choose to stay in the entire weekend and be happy and engaged,” said Mr. Aird, 52, an executive at an international retail firm. The Airds plan to move into their three-bedroom apartment on Millennium Tower’s 34th floor in August, having sold their Millennium Place apartment at a profit last month, for $1.95 million.
“It’s not uncommon now to see premium condos going for 30% higher prices than premium single family homes—even traditional redbrick townhouse units,” said Javier Vivas, an economic researcher for realtor.com. The starting sales price for high-rise condominiums in the top tier of Boston’s luxury real estate market is now $2.3 million—a 74% increase over 2012 prices. (News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, also owns realtor.com, the listing website of the National Association of Realtors.)
Twenty-Two Liberty, a 14-story waterfront residence in the 21-acre Fan Pier development on Boston Harbor, sold out before it opened its doors last December. Its 120 apartments reached top prices of over $5 million, according to public records, and a number of them have since been combined to form larger units. “The demand that we’re catering to is from local buyers who want to downsize from homes into condominiums that provide them with the convenience of an urban setting, and amenities,” said Joseph F. Fallon, whose Fallon Company developed Fan Pier.
One Dalton, an $800 million, 61-story Four Seasons hotel and condominium designed by Harry Cobb, architect of Boston’s landmark Hancock Tower, will become the city’s tallest residential skyscraper when it opens in the Back Bay in the summer of 2018.
Priced between $2 million and $40 million, One Dalton’s 186 condominiums are designed as skyboxes on the city, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, 11-foot-high ceilings, and fireplaces. Condo owners will share the fitness center, indoor lap pool and spa with Four Seasons guests; however, owners will be able to enjoy a cocktail in their private club and restaurant, or chip golf balls in the residents-only golf simulator room.
Beyond the Back Bay, new luxury buildings are helping to reshape and revitalize long-overlooked areas. Waterside Place, a 20-story high-rise with 236 rental apartments priced between $2,900 and $5,700, was built on Port Authority land in the Seaport District in 2014.
“Twenty years ago, this was not a place you wanted to walk around in the dark,” said Dorrie Luck, 47, a mother of three who traded a large home in the suburbs for an airy two-bedroom apartment on the top floor of Waterside Place last year. “It’s actually so peaceful—I look out my window and I see the harbor.”
Residents can grow vegetables in a garden on the 3rd floor sundeck, which also has a bocce court and a summer kitchen. A pop-up grocery stand sells produce in the lobby every Wednesday.
Across town, Pierce Boston—where Mr. Adams bought his condo apartment—will cap the transformation of the Fenway when it opens in the summer of 2018, with two floors of shops and restaurants, 240 rental apartments, and 109 condominiums priced from just under $1 million to $6 million—30% of which have already been sold, according to developer Steve Samuels.
“We used to call Fenway the hole in the donut—it was surrounded by all these great neighborhoods and institutions, but the Fenway itself was the hole, with old parking lots and Goodyear and Burger King,” said Mr. Samuels. He said his company has spent “a couple of billion dollars” to develop the Fenway since the late 1990s, creating apartments, restaurants, a workspace for innovation companies and a boutique hotel.
Pierce Boston is one of several new luxury buildings that are actively courting younger residents. In addition to the Twitter wall in its lobby, AVA Theater District, a 398-unit luxury rental tower in downtown Boston, offers multiple common areas for residents to mingle, including a rooftop pavilion.
Troy Boston, which opened last year in the South End, has its own Instagram page; residents use an app for valet dry-cleaning, park their bikes in a ground floor commuter lot, and hang out in several indoor and outdoor lounges. Recent events include a cooking demonstration by chef Ming Tsai, a hip hop pool party, and catered “yappy hours” at the dog run. Rents range from $2,395 to $4,613.
“I work in a very social up-and-coming company, and I got the same vibe from the Troy—you want to be an active part of it,” said Chris Gannon, a 31-year-old director of talent for a tech company, who moved into a one-bedroom there in January, paying $3,250.
Baby boomers are getting in on the act, too. Last month, Tom Joyce, a longtime lobbyist, moved his wife, teenage daughter and two dogs from the suburbs to an 11th-floor penthouse at One Canal, a 12-story luxury rental building that just opened in Boston’s Bulfinch Triangle neighborhood.
“The rooftop pool is open—the views are spectacular. There’s an outdoor theater up there, and grills,” said Mr. Joyce, 68, who pays about $7,000 in rent for his 1,400-square foot apartment with two terraces.
“I’ve lived in a condo that had amenities like a common area, but the only people who used it were lounge lizards,” he said. “This place seems to be much more inviting.”
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