BOSTON — It was the sort of event that almost made you forget the recession ever happened.
Sharply dressed bankers and developers, the mayor and governor took to a stage under a big white party tent with balloons and band lights. In front of them, a row of shovels and a neatly shaped pile of sand. When Matt Emmens, the CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals stood at the podium, he said he’s been to many groundbreakings before.
“For those of you that haven’t,” Emmens said, “let me give you a clue. We like biomarkers in our business. The marker for these is the number of shovels. You will never see this many shovels again in your lifetime!”
Twenty-six shovels, each engraved with details of the event, and the date: June 22, 2011, almost four years after this project was put on hold amid a worsening financial climate.
So when purple and white paper filled the tent like a snow globe, and you could practically feel years of frustration blowing into the harbor air. A prime piece of commercial real estate on South Boston’s waterfront is now finally under development. Vertex alone will move 1,300 workers here. Its 1.1 million square feet of office space will anchor more building, including a hotel, restaurants, retail stores and condominiums. Music to the ears of construction workers, such as excavation supervisor Joe White.
“Gonna be a lot of work for a lot of trades,” White said wearing his brown hard hat. He will be supervising some of the 1,000 new construction jobs here, and says it’s a long time coming.
“Like the whole economy, everybody’s been holding back on the building, and right now, this is opening up,” White said.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino hopes the Fan Pier development is opening up much more. City officials are branding the Seaport District and the area around South Station and Fort Point Channel as the “Innovation District.”
“There are developers we’ve met with who are looking at the Innovation District much differently than they had six months ago. With Vertex making their investment in this waterfront, they know there’s great possibilities,” Menino said.
Those possibilities are finally becoming reality for Joe Fallon, the head of the Fallon Co., which is developing Fan Pier. During the years Fallon has been fighting the tight credit markets wary of such a big development, he has been staging events at the site. Later this summer he is bringing in cliff divers, who will jump into the harbor from the roof of the adjacent the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).
“The reason I’m bringing cliff diving?” Fallon asked the audience rhetorically. “If we weren’t going to get going I was gonna jump.”
But the development is going to get going. Is it a sign the woes of the commercial real estate and retail sectors and constructions industries are over? Probably no. But Fan Pier moving forward may be a sign those industries are stepping back from the cliff.