There is a spot in a garage at 439 Marlborough Street in Back Bay asking $299,900.
Downtown Boston spaces—garage or otherwise—have long asked and commanded such six-figure sums, the sorts that could buy an entire house or condo in some parts of the city. In 2009, a spot at 48 Commonwealth Avenue in Back Bay sold for $300,000, for instance. And, in a 2015 auction that lasted all of 15 minutes, two tandem spots at 298 Commonwealth, also in Back Bay, went for $560,000 total.
As gobsmacking as these are, however, such sales prices—and the listing for 439 Marlborough, which went live on January 7 through Donalan Group Realty’s Alan Ginsberg—might one day soon seem like steals. That’s because parking norms in downtown Boston are shifting, and parking spaces in the area are disappearing.
The conventional downtown parking garage is pretty much on the ropes, for starters. If a garage gets built—or, more to the point, if the city approves one for construction—it’s invariably part of a larger mixed-use project that also invariably emphasizes proximity to public transit.
Numerous examples abound, including the partial teardown of the hulking Government Center Garage to make way for the multi-building Bulfinch Crossing project or the redevelopment of the Clarendon Garage to pare and replace it within a larger project on and around Back Bay Station.
On the public-sector side, the city nearly two years ago began replacing downtown parking spots with dedicated bus lanes as well as designated pickup/dropoff points for app-hail services such as Uber—changes that the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh is paying for through hikes in parking fines.
Meanwhile, micromobility—getting around downtown Boston in or on anything smaller than a car—has been creeping forward. Bike-share options now offer thousands of vehicles at relatively low costs, including of the electric battery-powered variety, and e-scooters seem inevitable in Boston.
Also, there has not been a serious larger-scale apartment or condo development in downtown Boston in years that hasn’t included bike storage. Some have even worked with bike-share service Bluebikes to provide a nearby bike-share kiosk.
Some of those same apartment and condo developments have in recent years taken the novel step of not even including parking on-site. Such a move would have been anathema in downtown only a decade ago. Condos especially were supposed to come with parking.
But nothing is more ominous in terms of conventional parking in downtown Boston than the disappearance of surface lots. Several sold or went up for sale in 2019, including in Back Bay, Bay Village, Dorchester, and Fort Point. As with conventional parking garages, these surface lots appear doomed to redevelopment.
So, while nearly $300,000 might appear to be a lot for a parking spot (and it is), the total might, sooner rather than later, look like a deal in a downtown Boston where parking is an even scarcer commodity.