The Seaport District may have gotten most of the real estate attention in Boston recently, but fans of Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Freedom Trail need not fear: commercial real estate investment in Beantown so far this year has centered around hotels that, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, are located in the more traditional areas of Boston.
True, the Seaport District is in the process of being transformed from what used to be “a decrepit no-man’s land of parking lots and abandoned warehouses,” as Boston Magazine put it, to a shiny growth hub of first-class office towers, luxury residential buildings, convention center, museums and hotels like The Envoy, which opened this summer (along with a bar on its rooftop).
But though the new area is sure to draw tourists, the two largest commercial real estate loans as of late July went to hotels in the older parts of the city: one in downtown Boston and another in the nearby trendy neighborhood of Back Bay.
In March, Credit Suisse subsidiary Column Financial issued an $815 million loan for Courtyard Boston Downtown, a 315-room Marriott built in 1924 and last renovated in 2010, located on Tremont Street, one of the city’s main arteries. This loan, on its own, made Column one of the top Boston lenders so far this year.
Four months later, Citibank issued a $225 million loan for the Westin Copley Place, an 803-room hotel on 10 Huntington Ave., near Copley Square in Back Bay, that was renovated in 2012. These were not just the two largest hospitality loans, but the two largest commercial real estate loans in Boston in the first seven months of the year.
The investment in hotels in the older part of Boston continued in October, with a $50 million loan for the 318-room Langham Hotel located downtown, at 250 Franklin St. It was last renovated in 2008, nearly a century after it was built to house the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. While foreign lenders have gotten press for their massive investment in the Seaport project, those investors are not overlooking smaller deals in other parts of the Boston area, including this loan, which was issued by the Singapore-based Overseas China Banking Corp.
None of this means the Seaport District has been languishing. For instance, German bank Landesbank Hessen-Thueringen Girozentrale issued a $90 million loan in June for Waterside Place, a luxury apartment building at 505 Congress St., around the same time that New York Life Insurance issued a $33 million loan for an office building at 51 Sleeper St., near the Boston Children’s Museum.
What the hotel data does show is not only that Seaport is far from the only place for tourists who want to take the T to the Boston Common or catch a ballgame at Fenway Park; it also illuminates other trends in hospitality spending.
When taking a look at the top 10 loans in Boston over the past several years, we see that spending on hospitality has been far higher in 2015, even though the year isn’t even over yet. Last year, the top loan, of $348.2 million, went toward the high-end mixed-use office tower at the Seaport’s 1 Marina Park Drive, and there were no hospitality loans in the top 10. The previous two years saw a total of $463 million among top 10 loans—less than half the amount of money spent on hotels so far this year—split between three hotels (Boston Park Plaza downtown, Hilton Boston Back Bay and Embassy Suites Boston at Logan Airport).
In addition to giving us a glimpse of commercial real estate investment in different parts of Boston, the increase in hotel loans in the Hub could also be reflective of a broader trend in the U.S. hospitality sector. On a national level, recall that last month Blackstone announced a deal to buy the real estate investment trust Strategic Hotels & Resorts and its portfolio of more than a dozen upscale hotels across the country.
Also in September, PKF Hospitality Research predicted that U.S. hotels would continue their five-year run of strong financial performance, exceed supply increases through next year and continue to see revenue per available room (RevPar) that’s above the long-run average through 2018. On a per-unit level, PKF reported that the U.S. lodging industry’s return on investment rose by 14.6 percent from 2014 to 2015.
All in all, commercial real estate data in Boston shows that, for all the sound and fury accompanying the Seaport District’s impressive facelift, the old face of this city has not been forgotten, especially when it comes to hotels.