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Boston Economic Development Authority

Marty Walsh 10 Point Plan

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (“BRA”) was formed in 1957 to take charge of state and federal urban renewal grants and the gained additional authority in 1960 by the state legislature, which granted the BRA both the planning and development functions in Boston.

Over half a century has passed since then, and many economic cycles have come and gone. Like any half century-old institution, the BRA must be reformed to make it more efficient and transparent for residents in economically targeted areas, potential investors in Boston, and, most of all, for the taxpayers of the City. On the campaign trail over the past several months, I have heard time and time again about the need for certainty, clarity and equal application of the rules in development, and I have a plan to address this. Given the need to undertake a top to bottom review, I am proposing changes to the BRA and other economic development agencies in Boston. Working with state legislative leaders, I will propose the following reforms in early 2014. Some changes will require legislative approval, and others can be accomplished locally with the approval of the City Council.


The City of Boston has overlapping economic development agencies that should be consolidated into a single entity with a broad mission beyond just the real estate development of Boston. All planning, development, economic research, tourism and other related activities would all be consolidated under this new cabinet.

We will establish a new Economic Development Cabinet, led by a Cabinet Secretary which will oversee all of the economic development functions of the City. This new Secretary will serve as Chief Economic Development Officer of the City running a new Agency (BEDA, see below) and oversee a cabinet of agencies critical to streamlining the planning, permitting and development process that includes most of the current functions of the existing BRA, in addition to some others.

1. Consolidation of Development Functions in Boston under The Boston Economic Development Authority

The City of Boston has overlapping economic development agencies that should be consolidated into a single entity with a broad mission beyond just the real estate development of Boston. The functions of the existing BRA and EDIC would be consolidated under the new Boston Economic Development Authority (BEDA). All municipal-owned parcels, including tax-foreclosed properties, to be developed by private parties would be transferred to BEDA to oversee public solicitations and development activities in keeping with the overall plan for that neighborhood and the City of Boston at large. The Secretary of the Economic Development Cabinet will also be the Director of BEDA.

 2. Separate Planning and Research from Development

The Planning and Research function will report to the BEDA/Chief Economic Officer, but will have senior responsibilities to lead these functions on a day to day basis under this new authority. Planning should set the table and be a necessary precedent to the development of projects to follow. Each neighborhood will have its permanent zoning completely updated every 10 years at a minimum, based on a comprehensive review with residents, property owners and all other stakeholders. The Research division of the BRA has historically been underutilized, with an overemphasis on real estate trends and demand for office and hotel development. The new focus will be broadened to include city, state and regional economic trends, growth in existing and new creative industries.

3.     Increase Transparency by Agreeing to Boston City Council Oversight

For the last 25 years, the BRA has avoided City Council oversight by not taking a City appropriation to run the planning functions as every other City in the country does. It has internally subsidized the planning function, saving the city millions of dollars by utilizing revenue derived from real estate activities undertaken on properties owned by and leased to private developers in Boston. This has impacted what should be an interactive process with neighborhood residents by being financially unable to effectively staff this critical planning function. By merging other city functions into this new agency, city dollars would flow to these functions under the BEDA and open up the agency to ongoing financial and mission review and transparency to the City Council and the taxpayers.

4.     BEDA Management and Board Governance

The Mayor and the City must have confidence in the person chosen to merge and manage this new entity with a broader mission to economically develop the City. In order to give that person the confidence to go about that responsibility I am proposing that they be given a contract with a term and compensation commensurate with the Police and Fire Commissioners, School Superintendent, Massport and MassDevelopment Directors. This will allow that person to make independent decisions in the best long-term interest of the City. I propose a minimum set of professional requirements be put in place for the BEDA director, who will be nominated by the Mayor and approved by the BEDA board.

Along with these management changes I will propose that the BEDA board and all other development-related boards are limited to two five year terms. The appointments will be staggered so no complete board is ever being replaced. The Mayor will appoint four members and the City Council will appoint one. I will also set a requirement that the BEDA Board must have three out of the Mayor’s four nominees be representative of 1) the financial community ( banks, mutual funds, private equity and 2) the general business community consisting of architectural, hospitality, or non-profit community and 3) one neighborhood representative.

5.     Establishment of The Mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet

Many city agencies that are not visible to the economic development process in Boston but play a key role will be part of a larger group, chaired by the Mayor. This Mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet would meet bi-weekly, would include the heads of Inspectional Services Department (ISD), Capital Planning, City Assessor, Environmental Review, Transportation Department and others who all can play a key role in helping to make economic development move forward in the presence and decision making of the Mayor. Including those agencies in this process will allow for problem solving and creative solutions, making economic development more efficient and timely in Boston.

6.     Neighborhood Development

While much attention gets paid to downtown and other adjacent areas that can, and should handle large-scale urban core and regional development, the business districts of Boston’s neighborhoods are vital to those residents and business owners for their day-to-day business commerce. I will establish a Neighborhood Business Revitalization Department (NBRD) that will bring residents, planners, development experts and business owners together to look anew at what type and scale of development meet the citywide demand for workforce and affordable housing, and create a lasting anchor for neighborhood businesses going forward. With many business districts either on bus lines directly, or adjacent to them and with train service nearby for most areas this initiative should be viewed as an extension of how Transit Oriented Development has been viewed historically by city and state government for new development around train service. Many of these business districts have city owned buildings or surface parking lots that need to be considered by all as possible opportunities to create more jobs and commerce closer to where residents live and work outside of the downtown core. NBRD will also seek legislative relief from current state laws regarding liquor licenses. NBRD will look to develop a process for a two-tiered liquor license system that will allow for small neighborhood restaurants to have access to affordable liquor licenses, knowing the economic growth these businesses can spur in neighborhoods.

BEDA will work with neighborhood leaders and small businesses, the corporate and nonprofit sectors, and our institutions of higher education to create an innovation district to serve Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan -- neighborhoods that have been hard-hit by the recent recession, and that pockets of unemployment that may double or triple the city's unemployment rate.

7.     Addressing Stalled Designated Developments

Within the existing city agencies there are many developments that have been designated by various city agencies for a particular project but have been unable to perform on those designations dating back several years. In the first six months of my administration, every project developer that has any city owned land under designation will be required to meet with the city and show their progress and specific path forward to development or their designation will be terminated. The city will then seek other developers who may be in a better position to perform and move these projects to create jobs and needed housing on these sites.

 8.     Target the Revitalization of the Downtown City Core

There has been a lot of attention given to the South Boston Waterfront, and that area of Boston is now thriving with new businesses, residents, and continued momentum. Attention should now be turned to the downtown core area of Boston. With the 21st economy continuing to emerge that is less tied to traditional business hours, the downtown core of Boston needs to attract businesses and residential development that can provide the same 24/7 energy that the South Boston Waterfront has begun to enjoy. These uses and developments will provide jobs for those who live or will move to downtown and the North End area, and will provide economic anchors to a proposed new repositioning of Quincy Market under its new owners as well as for North End and Downtown businesses looking for more growth in their businesses.

 9.     Establishment of City, State, Federal Economic Working Group

With Boston as the major economic engine for both the state (providing well over 20% of the state revenues) and the region, there should be a formalized established working group that meets monthly at the highest level to align the economic interests of the city, state, and the federal government when it comes to creating and coordinating as they conduct business that effects the economic development of Boston and the region. Both the state and the federal government have substantial office space in different and antiquated buildings throughout the City of Boston. A more coordinated approach as they look for possible new opportunities to locate in Boston is just one benefit of formalizing, coordinating and joint planning that ultimately would benefit the City of Boston and its residents. Many properties in Boston like the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Boston Marine Industrial Park are specific examples of federal oversight on particular buildings that have limited what would be extraordinary development sites from moving forward because of federal government oversight.

10.  Utilizing BIDFA

The Boston Industrial Development Finance Agency (BIDFA) has never been utilized anywhere close to its full capacity. Eligible projects being developed under BEDA will be required to use BIDFA to finance projects, creating an additional revenue stream for the City. With this conduit, bonding issuance capacity BIDFA can generate revenue and keep the development benefits inside City government without having to rely on outside agencies.

11.  Marketing and Business Development

Within the BEDA, I will establish a data-driven marketing strategy aimed at creatively and aggressively recruiting businesses from all over the world to relocate to Boston. BEDA’s marketing department will use current research to target growth industries, and use the needs of companies to inform the plan for the City’s workforce development. Within the marketing department, there will be specialists in the industries predicted by our research to have the most potential for growth over the ensuing 5-10 years. The BEDA will share its research with other City agencies involved in education and workforce development. In addition, the BEDA will promote the use of the Boston Industrial Development Finance Authority, the underused bond-issuing authority of the City.

12.  Local Partners

Developers of City /BEDA owned parcels will be required to have local partners. If those developments are in neighborhoods the developers will need to be partnered with local profit or non-profit partners and will be graded in the bid responses on their ability to make a successful partnership among other criteria. In Downtown projects developers bidding will be required as part of their bids to have minority and /or woman partners in order to win any bid to develop these valuable public sites that I intend to move forward on very quickly.

13.  Addressing Disparity

The new Chief Economic Development Office for the City will be charged with developing and implementing policies that will level the playing field and allow so-called minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses from Boston's diverse neighborhood to participate in all levels of economic development activity, generated by the City of Boston. During the first six months of the Walsh administration, a disparity study will be commissioned to acquire needed information regarding the current participants in our city's economy, and to end once and for all, any real or perceived discrimination against minority and women contractors, vendors, et al. City Hall will support the goals of the Boston Residents Job Policy, and my Chief Economic Development Office will work to make sure they are met. We will commit to devising a robust program for enforcement that includes penalties for non-compliance.

14.  Youth

My Chief Economic Development Officer will be charged with working closely with my Youth Affairs Cabinet to develop a year-round employment strategy targeting neighborhood youth between the ages of 14 and 24. Vocational education opportunities will be improved and expanded; and the head of BEDA will work with the BPS Superintendent to ensure that high school grads, who are not headed to college, have opportunities to work in the building trades, IT, heath care, hotel and hospitality industry, and in other areas.

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