At GE Welcome Party, More Questions Raised Than Answered
More than a dozen executives from General Electric joined state and city officials on the top floor of 60 State Street Monday afternoon, shrouded in the white haze of early April snow.
“I can honestly say we didn’t move here for the weather,” GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt quipped, garnering yuks from a room packed with New England’s business and political elite. Attorney General Maura Healey, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and outgoing Boston Foundation head Mary Jo Meisner were all in attendance for the “Boston Move Celebration”—part press conference, part welcome party.
And onstage, Immelt sat beside Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the latter conspicuously missing his fur coat.
“You have a chip on your shoulder. That’s awesome,” Immelt said of Boston. “It’s good for companies. You never feel like you’re quite where you want to be.”
The multinational corporation announced in January it would move its global headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston, inking a $145 million deal packed with tax incentives and infrastructure improvements. Last month, GE signed a letter of intent to purchase a 2.5-acre, waterfront piece of property in Fort Point from Procter & Gamble. Monday morning, the company announced $50 million in local philanthropy as a goodwill gesture, including $25 million for Boston Public Schools.
“High schools are the first thing we thought of when we found out GE was coming to Boston. Literally the first thing we thought of,” Walsh said. Madison Park High School would be a focus of the city’s partnership with GE, Walsh added, seeking to reinvent vocational education for the 21st century.
Immelt offered few specifics about GE’s plans for the Fort Point site, beyond an open-air feel and a GE sign you could see “from Mars.” When asked how the Boston Redevelopment Authority would come into possession of the two brick warehouses on the parcel, as indicated by GE vice president Ann Klee late last month, Walsh said the city already owned the buildings.
“Well, we own the land right now. We’re working the final deal, as far as how it works and how we move forward here. That’s why we can’t get into a lot of particulars around the deal,” Walsh said. “But General Electric’s meeting with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and we’ll continue to work with General Electric and the BRA.”
But after the press conference, Walsh’s economic development chief John Barros clarified to a small group of reporters that this wasn’t the case—the city does not own the land or the buildings at the proposed site. “I think he was trying to say that the BRA owns land, owns buildings like that,” Barros said, comparing it to Converse’s headquarters on Lovejoy Wharf.
Barros said the BRA could acquire the former Necco buildings one of two ways: either GE would either transfer the deed, or it would be purchased with public money pegged for economic development. Either way, the BRA would own the buildings in perpetuity, offering GE lease terms of 20 years at a time. In the event GE leaves, the BRA would retain ownership.
“At some point, someone’s paying P&G,” Barros said. “The opportunity for the BRA to be the vehicle by which you use those state grants is possible.”
And about that helipad? It’s still on the table, Barros said, though it won’t be on any of the three buildings on the future Fort Point site. He stressed that it would be a “public helipad,” and local hospitals and other corporations would benefit from its construction.
“We have to find a location with true public access,” he said. “It’s probably a good bet we’re going to use public money.”