Title: Founding Partner and Managing Director, HYM Investment Group
Industry experience: 27 years
Transit-oriented development is viewed as a can’t-miss opportunity these days in Boston. A recent study by George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis found that properties with multiple transportation options had rents 96 percent higher than auto-dependent suburban locations. HYM Investment Group founder Thomas O’Brien is involved with three of the region’s largest transit-oriented projects: Boston Landing in Brighton, the 45-acre NorthPoint in Cambridge and Bulfinch Crossing, the 2.9 million-square-foot redevelopment of the Government Center garage property. The projects were cited by Smart Growth America when it recently named O’Brien as its 2016 Developer of the Year.
Q: How did HYM’s role at NorthPoint change when DivcoWest bought out Canyon Johnson Urban Funds’ stake in 2015?
A: Divco has a really strong development team locally. A number of them are folks who have come up here and taken up the mantle. For us now, we’re part of a team that’s moving the whole site forward. It’s a complicated site, it’s 45 acres and it requires a very large team. The most important thing to (HYM’s) success is we have a great team, two partners in Doug Manz and Paul Crisalli. We’re fortunate to have a great team of 22 people who work with us.
Q: NorthPoint recently agreed to pay half of the city of Cambridge’s $25 million contribution to the MBTA Green Line Extension. How important is the GLX to NorthPoint’s success?
A: It’s really important. NorthPoint already has the connection to two lines. There’s already a station at Lechmere, and an Orange Line station that’s accessible because of the pedestrian connection bridge over to Bunker Hill Community College station. There’s plenty of connections to the two existing lines, but the Green Line does make a stronger connection to Somerville and the inner suburbs, and it also opens up the opportunity for a brand-new entrance to NorthPoint and improvements along Monsignor O’Brien Highway.
Q: What was it like working with MassDOT and NB Development on the designs for the privately-funded MBTA commuter rail station at Boston Landing?
A: New Balance is a terrific company that locally has decided not only to build its headquarters here, but to make sure that an entire transit-oriented campus is built there. There’s another piece being completed this summer, a new office building and the Bruins’ practice facility, and we are collectively moving closer to start of a residential project as well.
The MBTA station really does create a great connection that allows people to get into the city of Boston and Back Bay, but also allows people who live in the downtown to make their way to Boston Landing and beyond. It is an essential connector and a missing part of the map in MBTA stations. All of the parties worked together and there was a close relationship on the design. (New Balance CEO Jim Davis) had an amazing vision for what can be at that site. When I was a kid, that was not an area where anyone would have envisioned the kind of things that are happening today.
Q: What’s the next milestone for the Government Center garage redevelopment, or as it’s now known, Bulfinch Crossing?
A: We have started the project of working inside the garage to create a new ramp system to move the electrical systems and plumbing around to accommodate the project. Every day one of the big concrete connectors is being removed and shipped out of here from inside so we can create a new ramp system while the garage continues to operate. The public will start to see more exterior demolition within 60 days off the southwestern corner of the garage. We’re on track to seek a building permit for the end of 2016.
Q: What sort of timing are you looking at for the hotel phase?
A: After we start the residential building, you can construct the large office building (next) or begin demolishing the garage and east parcel. A lot of that depends on if we’re successful getting an office tenant. The hotel is part of the east parcel. Today the financing for hotel construction is pretty strong. The recent sales of hotels in the market have been strong and that creates confidence.
Q: Should developers be required to pay for transportation projects in the Seaport District, such as the new Northern Avenue bridge or capacity upgrades for the Silver Line?
A: We’re all in this together. We have significant infrastructure needs, and every piece of the equation needs to be part of the answer whether that’s developers or other ways that revenue can be created. The issues we face are decades in the making. We as a society have stopped investing in infrastructure in a broad way. Two years ago, after a lot of work a gas tax was created and then it was repealed. There are all kinds of options people need to think about.
After Much Deliberation, O’Brien’s Top Five Springsteen Tunes:
- “She’s the One”
- “Thunder Road”
- “Born to Run”