ROBERT KENNEDY famously paraphrased George Bernard Shaw in a 1968 campaign speech when he said, “Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
Charlie Baker offered his own decidedly more prosaic version of that this afternoon.
“Normally, people look at it and see a parking lot,” the governor said. “The idea of trying to come up with a better and smarter or more sophisticated use of that property probably wouldn’t have happened without a process like this.”
With that, the state’s nuts-and-bolts governor teed up an example of how his administration is putting state owned property to use to generate revenue and address other priorities, such housing and job development. The example he cited was a lease agreement with a Boston company to install solar-energy canopies at Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority parking lots. A contract with Omni Navitas covering 37 MBTA parking lots and other structures will generate $1.9 million for the state in the first year, with an annual 3 percent increase over the life of the 20-year lease.
Baker briefed reporters Thursday afternoon on the administration’s Open for Business initiative, which was launched in October 2015 and now claims more than 85 projects in the pipeline involving state property in 41 cities and towns.
Baker touted the initiative as the first time state government has coordinated its inventory of assets that could be put to higher use through private development. Officials from 10 different agencies now meet monthly to plan the use of surplus state assets. The administration says 22 sites have either been sold, leased, or put under agreement since the project started.
When all 22 projects are fully executed, they will generate $413 million in revenue, mostly through long-term leases, create 1,556 new housing units, and 260 new jobs, according to the administration.The projects will create 100,000 square feet of new commercial space and generate $8.2 million in annual property tax payments to cities and towns.
When asked how the figures covering the period since October 2015 compare with 14-month periods from prior administrations, Baker playfully put his hand over the microphones on the conference table in front of him and whispered loudly, “There are no numbers for any previous 14 month period.”
Although that left it unclear whether the Baker administration is outpacing its predecessors in making productive use of surplus state property, it also underscored the administration’s claim that the state has not, until now, had a comprehensive approach to managing its assets or made that a high priority.
Baker said the team overseeing the project is also trying to market most aggressively to potential developers those parcels whose disposition don’t require extensive permitting or legislative approval. The state is prioritizing “what I would describe as first mover type properties,” said Baker. In the past, he said, developers spent too much time on parcels that “have probably not borne a lot of fruit and chewed up a ton of time, and so they just sort of said, screw it, I’ll chase other sites.”
Among the projects underway are a mixed-used project that will produce 67 housing units, 14 of them affordable, and 4,500 square feet of commercial space on a parcel adjacent to the Beverly commuter rail station. Projects in the pipeline include plans to sell armories in New Bedford and Lynn next year and to issue a request for development proposals for 250 acres at the Monson Development Center.
State officials said there are no fixed goals for the uses of state property, but said housing is a bigger priority for sites inside Route 128, while job creation is generally more the focus for property outside that area.