Case Studies

Boston Redevelopment Authority

Shaping Boston for the better by engaging community in development process

Great cities such as Boston are not born; they are made through careful planning and development that promotes long-term prosperity — this is the philosophy behind the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). By partnering with the people who live and work in the diverse patchwork of communities and neighborhoods that make up Boston, BRA helps plan for the city’s future while paying homage to the past.

Founded in 1957, BRA was established by the Boston City Council and the Massachusetts Legislature to oversee public housing initiatives. In 1960, the City Planning Board was merged with BRA. 33 years later, BRA joined the state’s Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC), an entity that leads local economic development activities at industrial and manufacturing properties in Boston. The work is designed to increase employment, attract new industries and business opportunities.

Boston Redevelopment Authority

Today, as the city’s planning and economic development agency, BRA serves two core functions: major real estate development approval and neighborhood planning. BRA does own and oversee several properties and projects itself with a large concentration of properties in the Boston Marine Industrial Park, now the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park — one of Boston’s largest working ports — and the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Connecting with the community

BRA now has approximately 230 building and development professionals on staff, including Brian Golden, BRA/EDIC director. BRA’s team serves the city in a variety of functions, working hand in hand with city departments such as the mayor’s office, private developers and community groups to better Boston.

“We have a team of project managers that facilitate the community process in development review,” says Nick Martin, director of communications for BRA. “Whenever we get a private developer proposal that meets the square footage threshold to require our review [any project greater than 20,000 square feet], we work with the developer to set community meetings, a public comment period and sometimes, even a community advisory group to play a hands-on role from beginning to end.”

BRA oversees small project and large project review, including institutional masterplans. “Boston is a huge hub for colleges and universities so we stay in touch with these institutions and are aware of their 10-year masterplans. They give us an idea of what projects are coming down the road and we can relay this to the community,” says Martin.

For large/impactful projects, BRA sets up impact advisory groups, which include a number of residents that either live or work in the potential project area. “These individuals are nominated by the mayor and elected officials that represent the impacted area to help see the review process through,” explains Martin. “We also host broader community meetings and open community forums so anyone can come and comment on an active proposal. We also have a feature on our website where the public can comment, if someone can’t make it to a meeting.”

Unprecedented growth

BRA’s team also performs neighborhood planning studies and development review, an area that’s particularly important through periods of tremendous growth and new development. “In the last two to three years we’ve seen a period of major growth — there is a ton of development going on, some projects are reshaping the skyline, others are more on the neighborhood level,” says Martin. “In our last monthly board meeting we determined that there is 7.1 million square feet of planned projects in the pipeline for the next several years. We approved close to 10 million square feet the year before and more than 16 million in 2013; it’s a really active time in Boston.”

A lot of this square footage has yet to be built, but current projects underway or nearing completion are also at record levels in Boston. As of April 2016, there were approximately 90 projects underway in the city. One of the largest is Millennium Tower — a new 60-story skyscraper. “Once this is complete it will be the tallest residential building in the city — at least for a short time,” says Martin.

Another development called 1 Dalton broke ground January 2015. It is part of the Christian Science Masterplan, developed by Carpenter & Company. “The first 20 floors are a Four Seasons hotel and there are condos located above. Once complete, it will be the tallest residential building in the city,” says Martin.

The recently opened Boston Public Market is one of the many landmark projects BRA has facilitated in recent years. From downtown to the South Boston Waterfront, more development is taking place in all corners of the city’s seaport area. The Seaport Square development includes over 1,500 housing units and new commercial space. There are also projects approved or under construction in the North End of the city near the TD Garden. “Boston Properties is working on a new entrance to the TD Garden and North Station, which will include three towers with hotel-office-residential space as part of a three-phase development,” adds Martin.

With so much development either in the works, under construction or wrapping up, BRA continues to look out for the best interest of Bostonians. “Our love for Boston inspires us to make this city an even better place to live, work and play,” adds Brian Golden, BRA/EDIC director.

By partnering with communities, citizens and those who care about sustaining Boston’s character, charm and identity, the Boston Redevelopment Association continues to work toward a prosperous city for all.

Published on: September 13, 2016

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