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Life Science Trends for 2020

Life Science Projects

There are several either planned or going up around the region right now, either standing alone or anchoring larger projects. They span from from Somerville to Watertown to Somerville again to different parts of Boston, including South Boston, Charlestown, the Seaport District, and Allston.

The proliferation of life sciences (or biotechnology) hubs in the Boston area is no surprise, given the industry’s footprint. From 2009 to 2019, the number life sciences jobs here grew 28 percent and the amount of newly developed commercial space for life sciences grew 71 percent, or 12 million-plus square feet (the equivalent of around 10 Prus).

The proliferation is also a sign of developers’ and real estate lenders’ bets on the industry continuing to grow, come what may in the larger economy.

Transit-oriented development battles. The region’s perpetually rising rents and home prices have pushed—and will continue to push—residents farther from the business districts where they work. This has led—and continues to lead—to some of the worst vehicular traffic on earth.

But it has also put a premium on proximity to public transit. And that in turn has put a premium on development sites near public transit. Build apartments and condos near a T or commuter rail stop, the reasoning goes, and watch tenants and buyers line up.

Recent battles in Newton and Hyde Park suggest such projects are easier said than done. Whatever the premium on proximity—or perhaps because of it—some residents and elected officials don’t want these projects popping up in their backyards. Such battles are likely to become more pitched in 2020, unless prices and rents come down significantly.

Parking lots. Surface parking lots are slowly disappearing, especially in downtown Boston and nearby. This is a function of both evolving transportation options and infrastructure—including more bike shares and bus lanes—and the sheer value of some of these lots.

The last surface parking lot along Newbury Street in Back Bay, for instance, went for $40 million over the summer, and is likely to be reborn as some sort of mixed-use development heavy on retail. One in Bay Village could host a residential building. And on and on.

To own a Boston-area parking lot in a prime location at the start of 2020 is to be in a very good position indeed.

Pivots from residential to commercial. The developers behind at least two major projects in Boston proper—the redevelopment of the old Edison Power Plant in South Boston and the planned tower at 350 Summer Street in the Seaport District—are trying to reduce the amount of residential space in each in favor of commercial space.

This could become a trend in 2020 as the region’s economic outlook remains sunny whatever the storm clouds nationally and globally (Massachusetts’s unemployment rate is around 3 percent right now, below the overall U.S. one).

Steady demand for office and lab space is already sending more companies searching beyond traditional commercial hubs—witness the veritable parlor game of divining the next Kendall Square—and keeping office asking rents high all around.




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