Boston to study converting downtown office space to residential

Want to live in a skyscraper?

Your lofty dreams might be a step closer after the city’s planning agency agreed to spend $100,000 to take a look at converting downtown office space to residential uses.

“This study will be part of an ongoing effort alongside planned downtown to generate strategies that can revitalize downtown in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic,” Senior Planner Andrew Nahmias of the Boston Planning & Development Agency told the board on Thursday. “The primary goal of the study will be to identify highly actionable funding and land-use strategies to help successfully convert vacant downtown office spaces to viable uses.”

Basically, they’re looking to see if some of the older office towers can be turned into apartments or condos, as some other cities have had good luck doing.

The BPDA board voted with little discussion to award the contract for the $100,000 study to HR&A Advisors, one of the seven proposals the BPDA received following an open request in November.

Mayor Michelle Wu last year released a report her administration had commissioned from consulting firm BGC that’s meant to rejuvenate downtown, which has had a hard time shaking off the effects of the long pandemic and the ensuing work-from-home changes that mean fewer office folks are on its streets.

“Downtown contains many older class B and C office buildings that are less desirable to office tenants and have floorplate sizes well suited to residential conversion,” the plan reads. The classes of office space essentially vary by level of swank, with A being the newest and highfalutin and B and C less so.

The report noted that at the time 28% of the square footage permitted downtown was residential, a number Wu and company want to get up in order to move the area closer to a 24/7 neighborhood.

t a study analyzing the financial and architectural feasibility of residential and other potential conversions and identifying specific areas and building types where conversions could be successful

There has been some fretting about impending office-space vacancies over the next few years as some companies look to downsize their physical footprint in this post-pandemic era when many more people work remotely.

The conversion thought would be to do this in a way to be “avoiding vacancies while preserving downtown’s historic charm for future generations.”