Boston's Innovation District has lured some 200 businesses looking for cheaper rents and room to expand.

Credit: Greater Boston

Tech Companies See Potential In Boston's Seaport District

July 16, 2013

George Bell, the CEO of Jumptap, a Cambridge mobile ad network, had never heard of the Seaport District in South Boston before a broker told him to check it out. 

The company outgrew its offices in Kendall Square, and Bell said that the new space on Seaport Boulevard is more versatile and more reasonably priced than comparable spaces in Cambridge.

"To me it was an obvious choice for us because it had that sense of being on the edge of something," Bell said. 

The South Boston waterfront is a neighborhood undergoing a major transformation into what Mayor Thomas Menino hopes will be a mecca for tech companies.

Bell acknowledged there’s a long way to go before the mayor’s vision is fully realized. 

"I think like many things, the marketing is ahead of the reality, and that’s OK," he said. "I think they had to create that sound bite and the contained sense that there will be an 'innovation district' of Boston, sort of 'build it, and they will come.'"

And they have. Since 2010, 200 businesses have moved in, bringing some 4,000 jobs with them. To help attract even more, Menino turned to the founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, Tim Rowe.

"We got a call from the mayor's office, and they said we would like to create a civic innovation center," Rowe said. "We couldn't say no to that."

That center, dubbed District Hall, is a public gathering space designed to foster innovation. But the building does not have any office space. While companies like Bell’s can afford the commercial rent in the area, many startups have been priced out of neighborhood. And that isn’t the only concern.

"If things were to really heat up and you had a lot of people coming in and out at peak commuting times, it’s going to be a lot of pressure on these roads," Bell said. 

In fact, traffic and parking seem to be the number one concern for people like Sharisse Freni, who has worked in the area for 10 years.  

"The price of parking is probably going to go up if they have garages," Freni said. "Probably be about $25 instead of $15. It used to be $7." 

George Bell agrees there will be growing pains, but he sees the long-term potential for the area.

"I think the development of both residential and commercial opportunities here will bring all the infrastructure," Bell said. "You can see that developing all around us right now."

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