Boston's Next Generation of Developers: JGE Development 08/28/23

developers JGE

The ever-changing development landscape of Boston requires developers to be resourceful and agile as they adjust to countless challenges such as new energy and building codes and a tough financing market. While historically Boston has seen a group of big-name players leading the development game, a new crop of firms have started to make their impact known.  In this series, BLDUP speaks with Boston’s Next Generation of Developers to discuss how they got their start, what makes for a good project, and their thoughts on the future of development in the city.

In our fourth installment, we highlight Jonathan Garland, President and Founder of JGE Development and JGE Architecture + Design. With over 20 years of experience planning and designing residential, mixed-use, academic, and institutional projects, development was the next logical step for Garland. Garland’s development arm focuses on transforming underperforming assets and underutilized parcels into stabilized income-restricted, and market-rate multi-family housing. As a native Bostonian, Garland looks to partner with communities to activate and improve historically disinvested neighborhoods throughout the city’s inner and urban core.


BLDUP: How did you get into real estate development?

Jonathan Garland: I have always had an interest in public policy, how it impacts design and development, and ultimately what gets built. I am fascinated by the confluence between ideas and feedback from communities and get excited by the frontal experience with our communities, working with them, and bringing their visions to reality.

BLDUP: What makes a "good project" or investment for JGE?

Jonathan Garland: An ideal real estate development opportunity would be one that gives us the ability to help solve the housing crisis while also providing a mixed-use set of components that benefits the community. Our Drexel Village project in Roxbury is a great example. It is comprised of affordable housing (both rental and homeownership), artist housing, over 1.5 acres of open space, social service spaces, and retail and commercial space dedicated to locally owned businesses. We are acting as a co-developer alongside The Planning Office for Urban Affairs, a long-standing affordable housing developer, and the St. Katherine Drexel Parish, revered my many as an anchor in the community. Together, we are invested in the Nubian Square community and our goal is to provide much-needed affordable housing, asset building, commercial and cultural support, and safe and welcoming outdoor open space. 

BLDUP: How has your background in architecture influenced your perspective on real estate development?

Jonathan Garland: Developers sometimes take for granted the skillset that architects can bring to the table. My architectural background gives me the ability to look at land and determine its potential uses and program mixes. My background provides me with the knowledge to be nimble, make good decisions, and put pen to paper more quickly. Good development is not just about financial gain; however, it is the mechanism by which communities can grow, thrive and be strengthened. I am most comfortable being in the neighborhoods where I work and speaking and getting to know community members, as my partners. 

BLDUP: What challenges do developers face in growing from small projects to larger developments?

Jonathan Garland: I see access to capital being one of the major challenges in growing from small projects to larger projects. Typically, a robust balance sheet along with proven success and a steady track-record of stabilized assets are baseline requirements with lenders if expected to participate in larger mixed-use developments. 

A second but equally important challenge is the pre-development cost and unpredictability of the permitting process. With larger development, you must consider the sizable increase in costs associated with things such as hiring more consultants, more environmental analysis and reporting, etc. 

BLDUP: Can you share your thoughts on the future of Boston development given new regulations (energy efficiency, affordable housing, etc.)?

Jonathan Garland: I think we need to have a healthier balance between the public policy makers and developers in the private marketplace. I am most proud to be working in Boston and have been all of my career. Over those 2.5 decades I have observed our City continue to push and in many ways lead the Nation in progressive forward-thinking policies around urban development. The policies are great and the City and our public officials deserve a lot of credit. However, the timing and release of these policies at times when the market is suffering from high interest rates, inflation, supply chain issues etc. often work to disincentivize or even halt development. The idea of a healthy balance calls for a more coordinated effort between the public and private sector for the benefit of all who desire to live, work and play in the City. 

BLDUP: How have current market conditions (rising interest rates, construction costs) affected your pipeline?

Jonathan Garland: Current market conditions have had a significant impact on the broader design and development community, our practice included. This period of high interest rates, paired with the ripple effects of Covid and supply chain issues are still being felt on a day-to-day basis with many of our partners in construction management, development and architecture—the issues are widespread and pervasive. At JGE it has prompted the need for us to really be intentional with how our pipeline is structured in an effort to be more comprehensive, more competitive and more creative.

BLDUP: What projects are you most excited about?

Jonathan Garland: I am excited about every project JGE is working on – both big and small! If I had to choose, there are four recent projects that are at the top of my list:

  • The previously mentioned Drexel Village development in Roxbury. 
  • We are serving as Co-Developer and Architect for the redevelopment of the Parker Terrace site in Mission Hill. Our plan will bring 40 new income-restricted homeownership units, retail/commercial space, and open green space with pathways, gardens, and pocket parks to the neighborhood. 
  • We have been working as Co-Architect on a new residential high-rise located in Kendall Square Cambridge. It will include a wide range of residential apartments and a vibrant community center at the podium levels. 
  • The Residences at 566 Columbus Avenue is a recently opened six-story multi-family building located in the heart of Boston’s South End Landmark District. We were Design Architect on the project, and it includes 66 luxury condominiums, community space, and below-grade parking. 

BLDUP: What are your goals for the company in the next 5 years? 

Jonathan Garland: Our goal is to continue growing and to continue doing the work we love to do. We at JGE feel we have a social responsibility to build equitably, sustainably, and contextually and we will continue with that mission. Most of our work has been based in Boston, which has allowed us to become intimately familiar with the city’s permitting and approvals process. We love working locally but are starting to expand beyond the greater Boston area and will continue to go even further! 

BLDUP: What do you think the CRE industry can do better to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and attract more underrepresented minority students and women to the industry?

Jonathan Garland: Education is key. We need to get into middle schools to tell students about our industry and about the opportunities available to them. JGE is in the process of creating programs that allow our team to go into Boston and Greater Boston area schools to teach and show students what we do and to get them excited about real estate development and the positive impact it has on our neighborhoods. This summer, we have had a high school student from Brooke Charter School working in our office and it is inspiring to see the excitement in his eyes as he learns how to create computer generated drawings. Being in the office for a couple of weeks has opened his eyes to numerous possibilities and he cannot wait to tell his classmates and teachers about what he has learned. That is where it begins.  

Contributor Bio

jge archtiecture

JGE Architecture + Design (JGE) is a Boston-based 100% minority-owned architecture and design firm with a comprehensive portfolio comprised of multi-family housing, mixed-use development, academic, life sciences, commercial, and university projects. Every project presents a uniquely different client team, programmatic goal, budgetary constraint, and regulatory approval process. JGE appreciates the profound impact design has on our communities, so we work collaboratively with our clients, design teams, and stakeholders to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges. We deliver buildings that capture the spirit of their surroundings while also emphasizing their own unique identities.