Interviewer: Michael Kline
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Carrie N. Kline
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Audio file is in .mp3 format.
Michael Kline: I have to put these [headphones] on to be sure I'm not getting any collateral sound here. Maybe you'd start off--. Let's see. Today is the 16th of June.
Nick Boynton: Yup.
MK: We're at the Concord Free Public Library. And the sun has come out.
NB: Yeah. Finally.
MK: Yeah, finally.
NB: It has been a long time it seems like.
MK: Yeah. Can you say, "My name is?"
NB: Okay, my name is Nick Boynton.
MK: And your date of birth?
NB: It's January 24th, 1969.
MK: '69. And would you--.. Maybe you'd start off, tell me a little bit about your people and where you were raised.
NB: Okay, I was born in Concord at Emerson Hospital with the rest of my family. Both my parents were born at Emerson. All my siblings were born at Emerson with the exception of one brother. But I have two brothers and a sister. Both my brothers live in Concord. My parents still live in Concord. I was raised in Carlisle up until the age of thirteen or twelve. And then we moved back to Monument Street in Concord. And again both my parents had been raised in Concord, so it was kind of like a dream of theirs to be back in town.
MK: Were they from here?
NB: They were from Concord too. They were both.
MK: Okay. How far back does it go?
NB: It goes--. My parents were the first generation that were born here. Both their parents moved here. But coincidentally, both my grandmothers were at Emerson Hospital having my parents at the same time, which is kind of qu—not queer. It's kind of wieird.
NB: Cool, yeah. But we lived right downtown, probably three tenths of a mile up on Monument Street. So I spent a ton of time while I was growing up in the center of town and at the schools hanging around exploring a lot. And my father worked in commercial real estate, traveled a lot. And in 1985 he quit his company and started his own--. He started the Boynton Company, which was designed to do commercial real estate investment in town. So immediately at that point I started getting interested in real estate. So I guess in 1985 I would've been fourteen or fifteen years old. I had been on business trips with him before, but I really took to being around Concord Center and understanding the buildings and the people who worked in town. So I guess I really grew up around real estate in Concord Center and really kind of fell in love with the architecture of it and the use of the architecture, I mean the different stores and how many conveniences there used to be. When I was little there was the convenience store, the drug stores. Woolworth's was here at the time. And that's--. After I went to college--. I went to New York. I went to Syracuse for college. And when I got back, started working for my father in real estate and managed, or kind of helped do construction, develop four properties right down in Concord Center. One was the Footstock Building, which is 45 Main Street. 32 Main Street was a building that our family owned. Tuttle's Livery we used to manage for probably seven or eight years. And Walden Grille we used to manage for a long time, which is on Walden Street as well.
So I spent most of my days kind of going around town fixing leaky roofs and really hanging around downtown. But it got to the point where it was time to buy myself a house and couldn't really afford to be in Concord. And my wife and I found a great house in West Concord Center. And that's kind of when I got my introduction to West Concord. We owned a couple properties over there, but. Started spending more time in West Concord and really feel in love with West Concord and its potential and its character. And it seemed to me that over the period of from when I was say sixth grade, fourteen or fifteen years old to when I was twenty or twenty-five years old that there had been a big change in Concord Center where you kind of had lost your practical businesses and it was all more boutiques and real estate offices and banks. And there wasn't really the functionality that there used to be where you could just go downtown and get what you needed at Woolworth's or you could go grab--. Not that I smoke, but you couldn't even go grab a pack of butts and cigarettes, cigarettes in Concord Center anymore. You couldn't buy a pair of men's underwear. So really--. And that was one of the things that we found that when you went to West Concord it was really, really filled with stores that you really needed in your everyday life.
MK: Such as?
NK: Well you have your dry cleaning over there. You get your dog's hair cut over there. You would go to the post offices more convenient over there. You would get your meat over there at Mandrioli's. You would get your fish over there.
NK: At Twin Seafood is the fish place over there.
MK: See I don't know any of this.
NK: Oh yeah. So there--. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's just a lot more stuff. So it almost seemed like people who would call me about renting space in Concord Center--. And the rates have gone--. I don't know how much you know about this, but the rates have gone from, I guess when I first started, the mid-twenties per square foot up to over fifty, fifty-five dollars a square foot for space. And so people come and say, "Oh. We really want to have our store in Concord Center." And in, you know if it wasn't a boutique or a woman's clothing store, something that would fit in, I'd say, "Well you'll really probably be much better off in West Concord," because West Concord has turned into the place where a lot of people from Concord do a lot of their everyday shopping, to the point where my wife and I can do all our shopping in West Concord, you know, outside of a trip to Costco or whatever, but. And we rarely come to shop in Concord Center. I mean people come--. There's a place called The Cheese Shop in Concord Center which people love. But we don't really come over here unless we have guests that want to see the history, or go to the North Bridge, or go have dinner at The Colonial Inn and get a piece of the history that way. So people are really coming over to West Concord a lot more. Sot here's a lot of great--. And it's totally different. Now when you walk down the streets I think in Concord Center people are struggling to make a dollar because the rents are so high. And in West Concord the rents aren't even half of what they are in Concord Center. So people are doing, not that they're doing better, but they're having an easier go of it I would say. And they have regular business because they're selling things that people have to sell in a bad economy or a good economy. Excuse me, that people have to buy.
So I think West Concord from that sense, a lot of friendly people. Everyone knows your name when you're walking downtown. It's just a really, really, friendly, cool spot. And what it doesn't have is it doesn't have the great historic architecture that Concord has. So it does have a little village. And so what I see happening now in the future, there's some different parcels that are really under utilized parcels in West Concord. There's probably ten to twelve acres that hasn't really been fixed up yet or is underutilized, old manufacturing buildings--.
MK: That you own?
NK: Some we're trying to own. We just bought some property on Bradford Street, the old Bradford Mills, which is about 75,000 square feet, that we're going to try to fix up as offices or residential space. But we're trying to buy more stuff in West Concord, because we think that it has just got so much potential down the road as a great place to raise a family and to be around. The first house that we owned was right in the heart of West Concord. It was at 41-47 Commonwealth Ave. and it had a retail store on the first floor and then three stories of residential on top of it. So we rented out apartments and eventually sold them. We had triplets five years ago. So we couldn't raise them--. There was no yard at this house, so we needed a yard. So we moved just outside of town.
NK: Yeah, triplets.
MK: My son's expecting twins in July.
NK: Is he really? Oh wow. Are they his first?
NK: He's got kids already?
MK: One already.
NK: Well see we had triplets, and we have two more. And we've always been thankful that we had the triplets first, because we didn't really know what we were getting into. Your son knows exactly what's coming. Times two, right?
MK: Well, I don't know. I don't know if that math works quite that way or not!
NK: It's a zone. You go into a zone defense!
MK: Zone defense!
NK: So anyway, at Boynton Company as a company we have a great interest in West Concord and trying to see that it gets fixed up and--.
MK: This is your company, or you own--?
NK: Well my dad's kind of slowed down now, so it's basically just me.
NK: Yeah. We sub out all our landscaping and snowplowing. We sub out all that work. So it's really--. My dad and I are technically the company. And he's down in Florida most of the time in the winter and still is involved and really started the whole thing obviously and gave me my, all my education I would say in real estate. But he's still a little bit active, but, but trying to do things--. I think there's a really cool opportunity right now in West Concord to develop West Concord so that it doesn't turn into a Concord Center, because we don't want--. You know I don't think that the people in town want West Concord to turn in to boutiques and clothing stores. They want to keep the practicality of it. It kind of has a funky feel to it. More artists are down there.
NK: More creative people. And I think there's an opportunity right now to work with the town, at least with the two properties that we bought, to really develop something that's good for us, and it can be profitable for us, but at the same time something that everyone in the town is going to like and use. And I think so many times when you look around, people are afraid of the developer and what he's going to do to screw things up. And I think that our approach has been, how can we do this and make some money, but at the same time do it right for the town, so that we kind of help change the face of West Concord without changing it too drastically.
MK: Do it right for the town?
NK: Do it right for the town. So--. In West Concord right now there's some spaces that are--. One of the buildings we own, the rent is probably eight dollars a square foot. And that is unheard of in Concord. I mean it's really, really cheap space. And that's where you have some carpenters and the guy who does some pottery. And you have some Karate studios or yoga places. Hopefully we'll be able to redevelop that stuff. And both these buildings need new sprinkler systems and elevators and new windows and new roofs and--. I mean they need a ton of work. So it's hard to do that amount of work and maintain the low rental rate. So we're hoping that with enough density we can add some res--, a residential component to it and either selling or renting those residential units might be able to enable us to keep the rents a little bit lower for the commercial users, because they're the ones who kind of bring the vibrancy to West Concord, these artsy-type people. And that's kind of our focus right now, is trying to do that stuff in West Concord.
MK: Have you ever analyzed how in your early lifetime the whole thrust of Concord Village or Concord Center, how that changed and why and--?
NK: I've never really thought about that I guess. I think Concord Center changed because it just got to be such a fancy town and the house prices were going up and up. And I think if you look at the demographics, the retailers said, "All right, we got some rich people in this town, and they can start buying $200 pairs of jeans." And I think in the old days it was more of a working town. And you had some money here obviously, but people would go to Boston for that stuff I think. And now it's a lot more convenient for people to have it right here. So I think that a few stores probably came in. A company called Bullfinch Properties bought Woolworth's, which was an institution. They had a--. You could go up and get a sandwich, a hamburger right there at the whatever they call it.
MK: Soda fountain?
NK: Yeah, soda fountain. That was replaced with an art--. I think it was split into four stores. I think it was an art gallery, a clothing store, a photography store, and I guess another clothing store, two clothing stores? And it was a Boston company that came in and did it. And they didn't' really care about the history of Concord and maintaining that mix of good users. And I think that was kind of the start of it. And other people said, "Well that worked." So then rents started going up slowly, to the point where it became a destination. I think you have a million tourists, plus or minus, that go through every year. And they have money to spend. And I think just with the demographic of the people who live in town, and especially right in Concord Center, it enabled landlords to raise the rent. It enabled fancier companies to come in. And it pushed out the people who couldn't afford to be practical and pay the--. You can't. You can't sell men's underwear maybe and pay $50 a square foot in rent. Just, maybe, I just don't think the math works.
MK: So you said a while ago that many people think or people generally think that developers--. How did you put it? Screw things up, or?
NB: Well I always think that there's a worry that where there's underutilized land is so substantial. And maybe West Concord is maybe twelve acres in all or something like that, the kind of the Village of West Concord. And there's about seven or eight of it that's going to be redeveloped at some point, maybe a little bit more. And everybody loves what West Concord is right now. And I think they fear the developers are going to come in and ruin it, and ruin what these people who live in town think it should be, which is, it's not all the same building. It doesn't all look perfect. It's affordable rents. It's friendly. And I think the fear is that if someone came in and they wanted to do 200 condominiums or apartments that now you're going to have 200 new people that don't really understand how it's supposed to work. They're going to have to be trained basically to, how you act and behave in West Concord. Or, if they're going to bring in The Gap--. People don't want The Gap in West Concord. So I think it's trying to--. Our goal again is to, trying to develop--.
MK: What about Wal-Mart?
NB: No room for Wal-Mart. They would not want a Wal-Mart. I mean even a bank tried to come in to Concord Center. And it was just an uprising, another bank. It was going to be Citi-Bank was going tot come to West Concord, Concord Center a couple years ago.
MK: An uprising?
NB: Yeah. I mean people, the whole town rose up and said, "No more banks. We don't want any more banks in our town." And it was an allowed use, and they signed a lease, and they ended up pulling out, because, "We don't want to be in a town where we're not wanted." So the town's very focused on what's going to happen in these different areas to the point where there has been a West Concord Village study group. There's a task force now set up to analyze what's happening in West Concord. A master planner has been hired to lay out how high things should be allowed to be or how dense they should be. So there's really a ton of focus on West Concord, because it's really the only spot in town where significant change can happen.
MK: Do you attend all those meetings? Are you on those committees?
NB: You know I started being on the committees, and then I pulled myself off. There was--. It's called the West Concord Taskforce, the West Concord Overlay Committee it was. And I pulled myself off the board because I felt like I was suggesting things that I thought were great for the town but could be perceived as also good for us since we were landowners over there. And it just seemed like it was--. While my heart is in the right place about what should be in West Concord, it didn't seem right having my ideas, saying, "Well I own this land. Here's what I think that land should look like." It just didn't seem right. So I do stay in touch with those boards. And whether it's a Selectman, or the Planning Board, or this Overlay Committee.--Some of the people, one of our tenants in West Concord is the head of the Overlay Committee.
NB: Overlay, because the zoning overlay is what they're talking about doing, just say, "Okay, in these underutilized buildings we want to see more of this or that." And that's what they're in the process of determining right now.
MK: Buildings that you own?
NB: Some--. Two buildings that we own, and then there's another--. There's several buildings in the Village that could be redeveloped. So some we own; some we don't. But they're looking at West Concord from a whole--. I mean right now there's an old set of train tracks that goes through West Concord that they want to turn into a bike trail. So this task force is looking at, where should that go through West Concord? How should it go through West Concord? There's a--. The pedestrian circulation pattern isn't that great in general for West Concord. So they want to look at how more sidewalks should be implemented, or mire lighting.
MK: Encouraging people to walk?
NB: Yeah, encouraging people to walk.
MK: Or bike?
NB: Or bike. There's a commuter rail station right in West Concord, so that creates big traffic problems at night, because they're all trying to get back out to Route 2 as fast as possible. So that jams up. So they're talking about some circulation changes for the roads potentially. So it's more than just the development of these properties that we and other people own. But there's other issues that they're up against too. This bike path could have thousands of people on it every week, which would be great. I think it would be great for West Concord to have that many people going through our town. It would be a great place to stop and get an ice cream or a sandwich or whatnot. But there's just a lot of changes. Lot of changes all seem to be happening at one time over there, so it's an interesting little area to be following right now.
MK: Lot of balls up in the air.
NB: Lot of balls in the air. Yup. Lot of balls in the air and slow to land!
MK: It strikes me as a little unusual for somebody who's a--. Do you call yourself a developer?
NB: Well we do development and property management.
MK: Development and propertyâ€¦.
NB: Yeah. And my--. I guess what I'm trying to accomplish is I'd like to develop these properties and then manage them, and it would enable me to stay close to home. Because I live right in West Concord, and if we have these properties and if they work out right, I could just be right in West Concord and I can go home for lunch and see my kids, or I can coach my kids in sports. And I—I don't--. Boynton Company kind of has a--. It's not really an official rule, but we try not to go an hour from Concord. I don't want to be on a plane going on business trips to some other state to find a property that I can't really touch and feel or see every day.
MK: But that's unusual, isn't it? Don't most developers operate outside of places where they were raised, or--?
NB: I think, yeah. It's a little tricky doing that. That's true, because--. That's true. And I've always managed in my career--. Since 1992 I've been managing stuff and working in Concord, or West Concord. And it's just been the thing I've been doing. So to me it--. You have the opportunity to build relationships. And I know people in town. And you know the building inspector, or the planning department. And when--. For me at least, when you leave town, now you got to go and you got to make those connections in other towns, get to know the building inspector in other towns and the rules and how things go. And being a one-person operation--. I think if we had more people working for us we could say, "Okay, well your territory's going to be over here, and your territory's going to be over here." But for us, where we're really just a one-man show, it has been a lot easier for me to be right here in town. Now that could change coming up here when this whole project in West Concord, these kick off at some point. And can I really successfully work with the town, so that they win and I win at the same time, so we're not fighting with the town, or hopefully the people in town aren't saying, "Jesus, I can't believe what the Boyntons are doing to West Concord. They live in town and they're screwing it all up." I mean I--.
MK: Are people saying that now?
NB: I don't think people--. We haven't really made any plans yet, official plans. And we don't even really officially know--. Both these buildings operate and carry themselves barely.
MK: The way it isâ€¦.
NB: The way it is. So given the attention to West Concord and this master planning process we're about to undergo, our goal is to kind of work with the master planning and say, "Here are some ideas that we have that we think would work and that we think would be good for West Concord. And hopefully the master planner would be on board with those. And then in turn he could sell the town on why he thinks this is good for the town. So I think there's a fear out there. I think if you go on Yahoo groups and look up West Concord you can hear some chitchat about what we might do. Or some people--. There was a rumor a few months ago that we're going to put up a four or five-story parking garage for a, the train, which was not true, or that they're going to put up a regional mall, which--.
MK: The Boyntons are going to put up a regional mall?
NB: Yeah, which is not true. So I think people are just nervous about what we might do. And in one instance, Bradford Street, which is three old mill buildings--. Our plan right now is to just rehab that. And I think the town's going to love that, as opposed to tearing it down and building a underground parking garage for something really big. I think rehabbing--. It's not a super old historic building. It's probably 100 years old or almost a hundred.
MK: What kinds of mills were they?
NB: It was originally Bradford Furniture, or Allen Chair Factory originally. So they just built chairs and desks. And then it turned into Bradford Furniture. And then it was actually a binding--. There was a ski-binding company; Dover Ski Binding had it for a while. And then when they went out of business the owners of that company just kept the real estate and just rented the real estate. And two great old guys, one who just passed away a couple of years ago named Konrad Ulbrich, and his partner Joe Collins, they owned several of these underutilized properties in Concord, in West Concord. And they had a great outlook on real estate. They wouldn't fix up their buildings at all. They wouldn't touch them. And they would say to a tenant--. In fact, I would take them tenants and they would say--. They would look at the tenant and say, "We don't give a shit if you rent it or not." And the tenant would instantly say, "I'll take it." You know, it was just like their sales approach that worked. And they would say, "We'll never throw you out. We're not going to give you a lease. We don't want a security deposit. Just pay your rent and don't call us. And that was an approach that worked for them for I don't know how long, twenty, twenty-five years. And now they're--. As I said, Konrad passed away, but Joe Collins is in his seventies, and thinking maybe it's time to move on. So we bought one of his properties with the hopes of buying a couple more of his properties that he owns in West Concord. But the way that they managed was so cheap. The rent was so cheap as a result of their approach to doing this that it enabled these artists and this almost like incubator space, to crop up, because it was so affordable. Why not do a start up in something affordable instead of going to Concord Center and paying more in rent where you--. You can't really afford it at the beginning of starting a company, or if you're an artist you can't afford high rent. And their--. It's their approach to real estate that I think really created the funkiness and I'd say "coolness" of West Concord. There's--. I think it's one of the reasons why it has been so great is because those buildings never were fixed up. But now it has got to the point where the fire department's on us about putting a new sprinkler system in, and that's a couple hundred thousand dollars. And we don't have any ADA compliance, so we need elevators.
MK: And it doesn't sound like there has been any maintenance done.
NB: There has been very little maintenance. And depending which unit you go in, some units have been fixed up beautifully, because the people paid so little rent that they would just fix up their space. They just put money back into the building. No one there was ever going to get thrown out. So some spaces were beautiful. Some spaces looked like they've never been touched at all. But yeah, it needs all new siding. It needs new windows. So this is all these costs that add up. And that's the trickiest part for us. We have to spend that money to fix the building up at some point, and you can't spend it all and keep the rent where it is. So we're trying--. The goal again is to work with the town to figure out some ways where we can justify fixing those buildings up, which they need to be, which needs to be done, still make some money, but still maintain as much of that funkiness or coolness that West Concord has.
MK; You're a very, very unusual developer I would say.
NB: I don't know about that. I'm the only one I know.
MK: Aren't you really talking about buildings which are scrapers and—
NB: I mean—.
MK: --would make much better condo sites?
NB: They definitely would. But I think there's a balance. I mean, I think when you say I'm not a regular developer, we--.
MK: No, I said you're a very unusual developer.
NB: Unusual. When you said I'm an unusual developer I think a lot of times developers and bigger companies are up against bigger hurdles as far as what kind of returns they need to generate. And in this case we don't really have that problem, not because we have a lot of money, but because we've gone to investors that are local people, and we've been up front with them and said, "This is going to have very little cash flow at the beginning, because we're just going to take our time to figure out what the right thing to do here is." And then we're going to also be up front about saying we're going to work with the town, try to do something that's good for the town too. And so these are local people who understand what's going on in town. And they say, "Okay, well maybe if you're a big development company maybe you need to have this twenty percent annual return on your investment. And we're, we can kind of say, "Okay, what works for us? Is fourteen per cent going to be good enough for us? And it's just a deal by deal situation. So I think when you, when you're a bigger development company you have more, I just think you have more, you got more people to take care of.
NB: Yeah. And you got to get, you got to generate a certain return to keep your investors happy. Or if you're a public company you got to keep them happy. And we're just so small that we can say, at the end of the day we can say, "Is this working for us or not?" If this works, then we'll be happy with the ten percent return. Or we'll be happy with the--. Hopefully it's a fifteen or sixteen percent return, but we're not locked into a mode where we have to generate a huge return every single time. And that enables us I think to be a little different. The flip side of that is these bigger developers who are more normal, not unusual, probably make a lot more money than we do, but, and my dad hates when I say this, but my goal isn't to be a gizillionaire or billionaire or anything like that. I just want to have a good business and work hard and be proud of what I do, but also to have as much time as I can with my family, so.
MK: Your dad hates when you say that?
NB: Well he's saying, "Of course you want to make money." And I say, "Well I do want to make money." That's not like I don't want to make money, but it's not my--. It's not really my number one priority. I mean I need to be able to survive, and I'd like to be able to go on vacations. But the goal is to really have kind of a nice lifestyle and be in West Concord or be in that area and spend as much time with my family as I can and my wife. So a lot of other people are more driven to be, "We're going to go traveling. There's a great deal in this state, or there's a great deal I'm looking at in Boston." And for me it's I want to stay close to home. And as a result I get to drive my kids to school pretty much every day. We have dinner as a family basically every night. I go to my nephew and niece's baseball games. We just--. It has enabled me to have a great lifestyle outside of work, which I think is most important.
MK: Very interesting.
NB: Yeah. So.
MK: So as you look at West Concord fifteen, twenty years down the road, and maybe you've had a glass of wine and--.
MK: --and your imagination is not tethered to anything, what do you see? How do you see it shaping up?
NB: I think it's going to shape up--. I don't know if you ever heard of Forty R. You've heard of Forty B development? Forty B development is something where it's--. It's a program through the state where a developer can take a piece of land and say, "Okay, we're going to put fifty condominiums here. And we're going to do a Forty B project." And if a town doesn't have ten percent--. If ten percent of the town's housing stock isn't affordable by state standards, then a Forty B developer can come in and basically throw out all of the zoning rules and say, "We're going to go higher than I'm normally allowed to. We're going to have less setbacks than we're normally allowed to," because twenty percent of the units he's building have to be affordable units. So--. And the towns don't necessarily like that, because they lose control of what things are going to look like. Concord is not really in that position. Well they're not really in a Forty B--. They're not at risk to that too much right now, because there's a big project pending that will get them over that ten percent hurdle, but--. There's something called Forty R, which is similar to Forty B, except that it has got to be around commuters, or within a quarter mile of a train station, or a bus stop, or public transportation.
MK: This is Forty B you're talking up?
NB: This is Forty R.
MK: Oh, Forty R.
NB: So it's a new version of--. It's not that new, but it's a newer version of Forty R. But it's really village-oriented and density-oriented.
MK: I was just going to ask you about that.
NB: Yeah. And what happens is the state--. So then you might say--. One of our properties for instance, "Okay we're going to rezone this as a Forty R property." And then you work with the town to say, "Okay, well what are the different zoning changes we're going to make for this property once it's Forty R?" And once you agree on that with the town, then the town becomes eligible for state funds. So every unit that gets approved by the town for a Forty R development, I think the town gets $3,000 per units. Every unit that gets built, residential unit that gets built, they get another $10,000 a unit or something. They get pushed up on the state projects, like highway projects, if they're doing Forty B-- Forty R in that area. But what it really is encouraging is it's encouraging more density on the villages, so people can be walking; they can be commuting to Boston on the train. And there's the twenty percent affordable component to it as well, so you're also having affordable commercial— residential space in the units. And my guess is that that's kind of what West Concord's headed toward is a little bit more height probably and more density. So it's a tricky thing, because it's a small village, and you've got to balance your parking. You know, for businesses to be successful I think you need to have parking, and one of the things I think Forty R allows you to do is have not as much parking.
MK: So they sort of wave that?
NB: They wave that, or they wave the height, or they wave the setback. They wave all sorts of stuff, because it's really good for everybody. So I think when you go to West Concord, there's Bradford things, Bradford Furnishings that we own. There are three stories-- They're probably forty feet tall.-- that I think that's going to become the future model for future development in West Concord. I don't think they're going to want to see a bunch of town houses springing up, but you build more mill-style buildings, because you can get your height, get commercial on the first floor, some residential on the second, third, or even fourth floor.
MK: What did you say the height was? I'm sorry.
NB: Right now, the height limit's forty feet, or three stories, and I think I see West Concord going to four stories. So you have, I think you can picture, it's called Commonwealth Ave, which is Main Street on West Concord. Those are all two or three-story buildings right on the street front with retail. And then behind that are all these underutilized properties, and I think that the town's going to say ,"Why don't we go to like four stories?" I don't think they'd go to five stories. I see maybe three or four new mill style buildings cropping up.
NB: Mill-style, meaning they're just squares, rectangles, not even necessarily post and beam. But they would look like an old mill building, so it would kind of tie into West Concord, a mill village.
MK: What's already there?
NB: And to try to match some of what's already there. So I see people living on the upper floors, and businesses on the middle floors, and retail restaurants on the first floors. And by allowing the extra density, hopefully the commercial space would be able to maintain some sort of affordable level of rent by--. If you're just building two stories, you don't have enough density to keep the rents low necessarily. So, if you're saying "Okay, if we can get forty apartments, or forty condominiums that we can sell, we can sell those, and that'll offset our costs to--." Maybe we can keep our rent at maybe fifteen or sixteen dollars a square foot, so that we don't lose the characters that are currently in West Concord. We want to keep those people around as much as possible. So I kind of see this nice new village, not new village, but the same, maintaining what's there, fixed up a little bit, but then just a little bit more height behind it, more open space.
MK: Where would the open spaces be?
NB: Well, I mean, if you can hide the parking by doing a garage--. There's couple of different scenarios. One of the buildings we own, there's a place called Neshoba Brook, which ties into the Assebet River, and there's some area there where you could put a little park. When I say little, I mean pretty little, I mean twenty or thirty thousand feet of space.
MK: On the river bank?
NB: Right on the river bank, if you can get through Natural Resources and those people you have to go through. If you could clear that bank and have a place where people could drop a canoe in and--.
MK: What's on the bank now?
NB: It's all wooded. It's overgrown. You can't even barely see the river right now. We have a parking lot and probably twenty feet of woods, and then this little brook. I guess the other things I kind of see happening in West Concord is, what I think is something West Concord needs, is reasons for people to go down there at night. Right now, outside of a few restaurants, once the commuters leave, it's really, really quiet. So one of things we're trying to do is, we're trying to buy a piece of land to build a community theater. There's a local--. It's called "Concord Youth Theater," children's acting group, that's looking for a place to build a real theater. So we found some land, so we're working with them to try to get that, and this is something we're going to have to try to get that. And this is something we're going to have to run by this master planner, but we think that having a place that it wouldn't just be children's theater, that the Concord orchestra could go down and do a performance there, or you could bring in, like a James Taylor, probably not a James Taylor, but, I don't want to say B level, but you'd have four or five hundred seats, three hundred seats, so it'd be small. But you could have movies for kids on weekends, or you could have concerts; you could have ballet there. But it's a reason to get people downtown, and if people are downtown at night, the stores start opening up at night; more restaurants want to be down there. It's a reason for people to want to live in West Concord. So, I think that's a really important piece of this, to try to make sure that there's reasons for people to come to West Concord as it gets developed.
MK: Are you interested in drama, or theater?
NB: Well, we work closely--. I'm not, not really, but the woman who runs it I've known for a long time, and the woman who started it, I was friends with her son, and they rent from us now, a little tiny theater. It's not even a theater, just commercial space that they've turned into a theater. I just think it would really be great for the town to have something like that. We don't--. Concord Center has something right here, where you park. I don't know if you parked in the parking lot by Emerson Umbrella? I don't know where you've been parking. Right over there, there's a theater. And then there's something right downtown called 51 Walden Street which is, it's not even really a theater, it's a hall basically, but they do Concord Performing Arts. I don't even know what they're called. Concord Players, I guess they're called. They do--. That's kind of their home theater.
MK: Is that the Scout place?
NB: The Scout House? No, it's across the street and this way across from the Scout House. It's a white building. And, as an example, when I was little everyone use to go on Saturday mornings. On Saturday mornings they would run movies for kids at 51 Walden, so your parents would go downtown and do their shopping or drop you off, and all your friends would be there, hanging around. You'd watch the movie, and they, your parents would pick you up, or you'd just hang around downtown, or you'd go to Woolworth's and get an ice cream, or go to Brigham's and get an ice cream, or something like that. Right now, West Concord doesn't have anything like that that's entertainment, I guess you could call it. It needs some entertainment. I think it would bring a lot of vibrancy down to the village. So, I guess when I'm drinking a couple glasses of wine, twenty years from now (laughs), I hope I'll be going, on my way to a nice performance by somebody down there and to have, walk downtown and have dinner. I think that's really important.
MK: So tell me more. What kinds of other activities? Would there be a--? Are we close enough to this library can serve West Concord--?
NB: There is a library in West Concord right now called Fowler Library, which is tiny compared to this, but they're undergoing a rehab, or raising money right now for a rehab. So there is a library over there. I think things that are missing from West Concord, again, entertainment-type things, there used to be a bowling alley in Concord. I think it would be great to have a little bowling alley. Ice cream is missing from West Concord. You can't get an ice cream down in West Concord. I think that would be great. And I think opening up the river would be great. I think the river is such a great asset. To any community, having a river in your town is so cool and, to--. Right now there is a place--. I don't know where your friends live, but Southbridge Boathouse is a little further down this way, under the train bridge, where you can go down and rent canoes. But you cannot walk to it. I mean you got to drive to it, so--. To have a place where, if you can imagine, you do an interview with somebody and then, at lunch time you go down, you grab a sandwich, and you rent a kayak for an hour. Just leave, basically, from your office. I think that would be a nice feature. To have this bike patch you could just take off and go for as long as you want on a path through the woods.
MK: On the old railroad--?
NB: Yeah, the old railroad. It's called the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, is what they're working on. I think that's a great asset. And certainly having the commuter rail right in the village is a great asset, too, so if I go to a Celtics game, I just walk from my house, which takes five minutes, hop on a train; you ride it at Boston Garden; it's now the Fleet Center, but it's so convenient--. Anything that makes it more convenient to be downtown are the things that I'm going to be looking to try to implement in our projects.
MK: Very unusual. That's great. A family man. A young man who's got a solid background who doesn't want to make as much money as dad thinks--.
NB: (laughs) No, yeah, not to be misunderstood. I do want to make some money. It's just that, we have five little kids that are under the age of five, five and a half and younger, and to spend time with them is so great. And it seems like the triplets were just born a couple of years ago, but they're five. And the time goes so fast. And it's just--. To me it's not worth missing all that to go make an extra whatever it is. So many of my friends who're in sales and travel and they're gone two nights a week, three nights a week, it's just not the way that we want to do things. So this has been perfect for us.
MK: Is there anything else that we should be talking about?
NB: I think that's about all that I got today.
MK: Very interesting. Very, very encouraging.
NB: I hope.
MK: I think a lot of people are concerned about--.
NB: West Concord?
MK: West Concord.
NB: Yeah, they definitely are.
MK: What directions it going?
NB: Right. It's going to change. I think that the hardest part about it is that people, people don't ever think how much the developer paid for this. How much does the developer have to spend on this? Just saying, "The developer's probably going to do this, and make all this money doing this or that." And they never--. They don't really step back to appreciate. The guys who own this--. Bradford Furniture's a perfect example. The guys who owned this building before us had no mortgage, had no money problems, needed no money. So if someone's missing the rent, they didn't really care. They turn, and they sell it to us for five million dollars, and you can't be that way anymore. You got to get your rent, and you got to be careful about what you do as far as expenditures. You can't afford just to let someone miss their rent. You can't afford to spend money that doesn't need to be spent. You got to be smart about that. And when you factor in the things that we need to do, like a new sprinkler system, or elevators, or siding, or windows, that's another five or six million dollars potentially.
MK: It's expensive stuff--.
NB: It's expensive, and so even if we wanted to make no money, we still need a lot more rent than we're getting today. And I think that a lot of people in town say--. They really don't want to ask the advice, they don't come to the developer and say "What do you guys want to do?" It's always like, "Let's band together right now. We'll tell the developers what they're allowed to do." And I can appreciate their position in the sense that they're trying to protect what they love, but at the same time, we're the ones that spent the money on it, and we're the ones that're going to have to spend more money on it, and we're the ones who pay real estate taxes to the town on it, and we're the ones who're on a loan for it. So, I mean we--. So I guess what you're saying is, a lot of people being scared, and I appreciate that, but at the same time I think they have to--.
NB: Concerned—. If we can work together to try to figure out something that's good for everybody, then I think everyone can win. And that's, that's the goal, and maybe if you'll come back in a couple of years you can find out if we're successful or not.
MK: Yeah. Okay. Here's a parting question.
MK: As you look around Concord, being a third generation person here, and you, you probably know Concord and its' environs like the back of your hand—
NB: Uh hum.
MK: --what, what is it about what has happened in the past twenty-five years in the Concord area that you think gives development a black eye? Do you see things that you feel are problematic, or in bad taste, or detrimental in any way, or--?
NB: No, I don't think anything like that's happened in Concord. I mean, there's been some controversial projects, but I think it's more that people look outside and they see like, you'd mentioned WalMart earlier, or Costco, or Home Depot. And people are now starting to see the effects that these big box stores are having on the local people, local retailers and businesses, and I think it's kind of, people taking the attitude saying, "I think this is not what we want in our town." So I think people in this town that are educated and aware of what's going on around the country see these things happening, and they say, "We don't want to let that happen in our town." And as a result, they're very cautions and nervous a little bit about that happening. I guess the other misunderstanding here is that Costco doesn't want to come to Concord. There's no place where they could fit; there's not enough people here; there's not enough traffic here. The Gap doesn't want to come to Concord, because there's no traffic here. So I think a lot of their worries are unfounded but--.
MK: But what about the destruction of historic properties? And what about the building of excessively large houses, and--.
MK: How does that grab you?
NB: Well, I mean, I don't know if you've been to historic meetings since you got here, at the historic district--.
MK: No, I haven't.
NB: It is a nightmare, and I think the town, and the historic district in town have done an unbelievable job maintaining the historic areas of Concord. So, physically there's no change in what Concord Center looks like from twenty years ago to today, virtually. I don't think anything really has changed.
MK: But what about some of the residential communities?
NB: The residential stuff--. Again, downtown in the historic district where it really matters, not that it doesn't matter other places. The stuff you can see when you're a tourist, when you come for a slice of history here, all that stuff, for the most part has stayed the same, and they fixed up beautiful houses. And then, you're right. You go up, further out, further out of the village, and you get to some areas where there's bigger land and some mansionization going on--.
MK: Is that cool? Mansionization? I hadn't heard that word that's--.
NB: Mansionization. It's, not that it's--. I don't know if it's cool, not cool, it's--. You know, when you get--. To me, if it's on the right piece of land, and if it's on a big enough piece of land to justify it, then what's the problem with it, if people can afford to do it? And, if you're talking about, you're going to pay, you might pay half a million dollars for a half acre lot to build a house on. Well if you're a developer—. We don't, I don't do this kind of development, but if you're a developer, you need to be able to sell that house for say, a million and three or a million and four. It's going to cost you six or seven hundred dollars to build a house. So you need to get some size in there to kind of justify doing that project overall. You can't pay five hundred thousand dollars for a lot and then build a house and sell it for five hundred thousand dollars or six hundred thousand or seven hundred thousand, because you're just not going to make—you won't make any money at all. So, there are some neighborhoods, some small quaint little neighborhoods around town where some bigger houses have gone up, four and five thousand foot houses where there used to be a two thousand foot house. And there's to me two arguments to it. One argument is that it increases the land value for everybody in the neighborhood, so it's kind of bringing up the value for everybody; the other argument is I think when you think of these people who live in these different neighborhoods, they had a tight-knit community, and sometimes the people who can afford a million three don't want to hang out with the people who can afford six hundred, five hundred. So it kind of screws up the neighborhood, and I think the chemistry within the neighborhood gets screwed up a little bit. And I think that some people resent that happening in their neighborhood.
MK: It sounds like you're on an entirely different track to create a village with density where, that has diversity with incomes—
NB: Right. And there's really no mansionization of that issue within the village itself. I think it's all kind of pocket neighborhoods. If you drive down, there's a neighborhood called, I call Southfields Circle, but it's past the train station a little toward Route 2, and it's just this little pocket neighborhood. It's a little U, probably has sixty houses in it, something like that. You can walk to the train. You can walk to the grocery store. You go into a brand new elementary school, if you live there, and it was built, I don't even know when it was built, it was probably built in the '40s or the '50s. So there's a small capes, for the most part, and they're selling. And I think the village zoning is quarter-acre zoning, when you're in the village for a house. So this neighborhood now is completely being turned over. One by one, these houses are being sold; people are tearing them down and putting up bigger houses. But it's outside the village. I think the village is always going to have--. I don't --. Well I'm trying to think of another example. West Concord's never going to generate--. Well not never. There's a lot less people willing to spend a million dollars for a house in West Concord, where that's starting price in Concord. And it's the same town. So, don't quote me on those numbers, but we've built fifty-eight condominiums in West Concord a few years ago, and we looked around and we said. "Okay, well the average price per square foot for a condominium is about three hundred fifty dollars a square foot." Well, there's one over here, in Concord Center, called Mill Dam Square, an old school house converted into condominiums. They sell for four hundred and fifty dollars, something like that. I mean a hundred dollars a square foot more. They're old, and they're tired, but there's something about being—. People like to be in Concord, and West Concord's not the same as Concord. So what we're hoping is that it's going to be—. We're not going to build million dollar apartments, that they would be maybe at the highest end that they would be seven hundred thousand dollars for a big, big apartment, something like that. But we--. I'm not going to encourage what's happening in that neighborhood I was just describing, the mansionization. I don't want to change the feel of West Concord. I think if you start bringing in million dollar houses into the village, or even million dollar apartments, that's going to bring in some people who don't, aren't going to have the right chemistry, I think, to be part of that. That makes sense.
MK: Yeah. I find it unusual that you're hip to this thing called chemistry and--.
NB: Yeah, well I do live in town, and I like it the way it is, and if I want to work happily in town, I think it's the smarter way to go. In a--.
MK: Do you face hostility or opposition as it is now?
NB:: You know, we don't have anything right now that's being presented or in the limelight right now that--. We're just kind of waiting, so that these two projects--. But no, I haven't--. People will call and, or I'll see people and they'll say "I heard you're going to do this," and I say to all our tenants, "If you hear something, call me and ask me." And my office is right down in West Concord Village, so I go out to the post office or to lunch. I mean, people are welcome to come talk to me. I mean I'm very open about what we're trying to do because--. But I think there's people in the background who think we're going to screw it up somehow and don't believe what we're saying. And I think—. I don't waste my time trying to argue with that. All I can do is my best and that's it, so. I don't really experience any hostility per se right now so, we'll see. (Laughs.)
MK: Thank you so much.
NB: Yeah, thank you so much. It was nice to meet you.
MK: Really a pleasure.
NB: Yeah, thank you.