Curtin: “Retailers need to be opportunistic and move quickly in Boston.”
Over the past six months, Matt Curtin and five other members of CBRE’s crack retail real estate team in Boston left the company and set up shop at Newmark. Curtin leads the relocated unit as executive managing director. His No. 2 at CBRE, Greg Covey, followed to perform the same role as senior managing director at Newmark. Also leaving CBRE to join the team were VP Nicole Nielsen and senior associates Alden Bush and Ela Hazar.
We sat down with Curtin to learn what prompted the move.
Matt, tell us about your team and the new opportunity at Newmark.
There were three key factors that attracted us to Newmark. Firstly, we were eager for the opportunity to work with Rob Griffin, co-head of U.S. capital markets and his team, who are key figures in the Boston real estate market across all asset classes.
Newmark’s acquisition of Open Realty in 2022 also had a lot to do with our decision. I had worked closely with Johnny Seigel and Mark Masinter at Open--both here in Boston and during my time in-house at Apple over the past 10-plus years--and I have a great deal of respect for their expertise in all things retail.
And Newmark’s acquisitions of RKF in New York City--where Greg Covey spent 11 years of his career-- and Harper Dennis Hobbs in London demonstrated Newmark’s commitment to becoming a top-ranked retail company.
Boston posts some of the lowest vacancy rates in the nation. Retail stock expansion has not exceeded 1% in Boston since 2015, according to Marcus & Millichap. What are the opportunities there for both established and new retail brands?
Boston has always been a very constrained market, so in that regard, little has changed. Retailers need to be opportunistic and move quickly here. The vacancy rate is so low at the moment that we are seeing competition for every quality asset. The most successful outcomes are coming from the tenants that will move quickly and aggressively.
The same is true for the Class A retail centers in the neighboring suburbs. Suburban lifestyle centers like WS Development’s MarketStreet and Derby Street and urban fringe mixed-use centers like Assembly Row and Arsenal Yards are about 100% occupied, with rents reaching downtown Boston levels.
Sounds pretty dire for brands looking for larger presences in Boston, especially considering that just 60,000 sq. ft. of new retail space was completed during the first quarter.
We don’t have land here in Boston. It’s not a new problem for us. It gives landlords the leverage time to pick and choose the best tenants for their properties.
What types of retailers are now in most demand in Boston?
It depends on the type of the asset. On Newbury Street, there is an explosion of luxury watch brands doing deals. Athleisure and contemporary fashion brands are taking up space all around the city. Particularly in the high-rises, we’re seeing some great restaurant groups transacting. Health clubs are back in deal-making mode after a post-pandemic pause and are helping to amenitize large office buildings. I gauge the level of return-to-office by the length of the line at Sweetgreen. Traffic there is ridiculous, especially Tuesdays through Thursdays.
Rents have risen steadily in Boston over the past four years. Is that a trend you expect to continue?
Yes. The flight-to-quality and the lack of inventory will continue to push rents upward in the best retail neighborhoods and shopping centers. So long as consumers keep spending and as comp sales continue to rise, so will the rent.