One Dalton Street, a new tower of Four Seasons residences and a hotel, is spearheading a revival in Boston real estate

Melissa York
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One Dalton Street towering over Boston

Boston’s strong and it’s never been stronger. The historical, academic heart of the USA’s east coast is seeing its biggest boom in residential property since the 1920s. So far, 83 new housing projects are under construction in 19 out of its 23 neighbourhoods. But why now?

For years, Boston has been an academic hub, with over 30 colleges and universities – including two of the world’s best, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – and a world-beating number of medicine and scientific research facilities, with over 20 hospitals and medical schools on its doorstep.

But three new factors have combined in recent years that have made big investors sit up and take notice. The first was the Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in American history, completed in December 2007 for just over $14.6bn.

While it sorted out many of the traffic congestion problems caused by historically tangled streets that were laid out long before the invention of the car, it was such a disruptive project that it suppressed development for many years.

The last seven years has also seen the takeover, and subsequent expansion, of the airport, bringing more than 50 direct flight routes into the city, boosting tourism and business from huge emerging economies like Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.

The 50th floor club lounge designed by Thierry Despont

A pro-development Mayor, Marty Walsh, also arrived at the right time, and two of the USA’s biggest companies, General Electric and IBM, have relocated to Boston in recent years. Microsoft is also looking to expand its operation there and Amazon is leasing up to 200,000sqft of office space in the city.

Yet no building is more emblematic of this upheaval than One Dalton Street. At 213m tall, it’s the tallest tower the city has ever seen. Comprising 160 luxury condominiums and a 215-room Four Seasons Hotel, it’s set to be a new harbourside landmark.

“The economy is blooming because biotech is hot, education is on fire, financial services is what it is, so we have this incredibly strong economy. Boston is a safe place to invest in and we’re just catching the wave at the right time,” says Dick Friedman.

He’s something of a Boston institution himself, as president and CEO of Carpenter & Company, a respected real estate firm based nearby in Cambridge, and a former chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission. A staunch Democrat, Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Export Council during his administration and, as a member of the Four Seasons board of directors, he’s also at the helm of One Dalton Street.

“We’re the tallest building in the city for 50 years and it’s controversial,” he admits. It’s set in the smart Back Bay neighbourhood, the cradle of Boston high society, surrounded by high end restaurants, designer stores like Chanel and Jimmy Choo, and a host of prestigious cultural institutions from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to the Museum of Fine Arts.

Bostonians “don’t like big, tall buildings, they kinda like them as they are”, Friedman says, and that’s more often than not traditional Victorian-era brownstone townhouses. Yet most of the tower – which is expected to be sold out by its completion in 2018 – has gone to wealthy Bostonians. How did he win them over?

A CGI impression of a penthouse living room

With a couple of smart hires. They acquired the site from the Christian Science Church, then promptly hired the same architect that had built its headquarters, Henry N Cobb, a former president of Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“He’s revered in Boston,” Friedman says. “He’s 90 years old and he always says he’s ‘mid-career’. It was approved for a 40-storey building, but when the city planners found out I had Harry doing it, they said, ‘Go to 60!’ He’s a guy people trust.”

Then he picked up architect and designer Thierry Despont – known this side of the Atlantic for his work on Claridge’s hotel – to furnish the private residences lobby and the 50th floor Club Lounge. The Four Seasons, which already owns a hotel overlooking the public gardens in Back Bay, also has a 30-year history in Boston so it’s also a tried-and-tested brand.

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Prices start at $2.75m and top out at over $40m for the three largest penthouses, two of which have already sold to household names behind big companies that have business in Boston, according to Friedman.

But most of its business so far has been from downsizers selling up their big homes outside of the city for a luxury condo further in. International investors too, many of them with links to Harvard or MIT, are also showing healthy interest. Most new Four Seasons ventures these days come with housing attached and there are a number of international “collectors” of such residences.

With the five star amenities on offer and a “hot restaurant” on the horizon, it’s proximity to transport and convenience that’s really drawing these Bostonions back to live in the centre of town.

“They’re going to live in a full service environment,” Friedman says. “You want a martini at four in the morning? Fine. You want someone to walk the dog, maid service twice a day, someone to cook for you? You got it.”

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