The Massport Model is a way to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion goals across the state. Now is the time to make it a Boston requirement.
When the Massachusetts Port Authority opened bidding for the Omni Hotel in the Seaport District, the request for proposal specified that potential developers needed to incorporate comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plans into their bids. Massport wanted bidders to address equity participation, workplace diversity, and supplier diversity.
To enhance the effectiveness of those efforts, Massport also called for developers to detail wrap-around services and other supportive strategies they would employ and to incorporate a system to capture performance metrics and provide accountability. These DEI plans counted for 25% of the weight in Massport’s consideration of proposals.
The gambit paid off. Richard Taylor, leader of the winning team for the $550 million project, made sure there was Black involvement in every aspect of the venture—from financing and investment to development, construction, operations, and maintenance.
The Omni Hotel project was so successful that Massport started using the same model for other development efforts. In fact, Massport and the Boston Planning and Development Agency have decided to include the 25% DEI provision in all the development RFPs they issue for city-owned parcels. Its success even led to the Harvard Kennedy School developing a case study on the Massport model. Now is the time to make it a requirement for all development projects subject to Article 80 in Boston, whether public or private.
In a Boston Globe opinion piece, Stephen P. Crosby, Jason Desrosier, and Richard Taylor—all subject matter experts experts in their respective fields of development—advocated including the requirement in all state and municipal development RFPs. They argued, “With this simple change — which doesn’t require legislation, regulatory approval, public hearings (though they may be a good idea), or any other process — Massachusetts could ensure diversity in our neighborhoods and begin to build generational wealth across communities from development investment.”
There have already been efforts to do so at the state level. In 2020, an economic development bill directed state authorities to establish an affirmative marketing program that would consider race and gender in contracting. Senator Diana DiZoglio submitted an amendment to the bill to incorporate the Massport Model explicitly in the bill, but the amendment was rejected. The bill ultimately passed the Senate, but the corresponding House bill did not include the affirmative marketing program language, nor did the version of the bill that came out of conference committee and became law.
We should make a concerted effort to get the Massport Model adopted into law across the state.
In another effort, Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, has proposed applying the model to the development of the state’s offshore wind energy. Meanwhile, Crosby, Desrosier, and Taylor say there is a way to incorporate the Massport Model into private development too, although they concede it would be more challenging than revising the RFP process. They note, “The BPDA’s Article 80 review process controls virtually all private development in Boston by establishing review and approval standards for transportation, environmental protection, urban design, historic resources, and green building. Not to mention all of the giveaways and handouts the city could hold back. From our research, the Article 80 process—and similar processes at state and other municipal agencies—could be amended to include review criteria for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
It’s imperative that Mayor Wu move to incorporate the Massport Model into the Article 80 process, because city-owned land is only a fraction of the developable land in Boston. Suffolk Downs and Harvard University each have more than 100 acres available to develop, and neither are required to meet DEI goals. Mass General Brigham is forecasting $8.2 billion in capital projects, with no DEI requirement from the city. The same is true for Boston’s other anchor institutions, both nonprofit and private.
The argument against adopting the Massport Model across the state or even the city is that local Black businesses don’t have the capacity to handle the volume of work such an action would generate. The response is simple: While Boston might not have the capacity, the nation does. The solution is to import capacity from across the country. Out-of-town Black firms can enter into joint ventures with local Black firms and establish Boston branches. The local firms and the out-of-town firms all benefit. This strategy worked successfully in the Omni Hotel project, with the Black businesses it brought to Boston continuing to grow.
The city and state should both adopt the Massport Model and apply it to the auction, bidding, and RFP process for all public development projects. The model should also be part of the Baker-Polito administration’s legislative proposal for a $750 million Clean Energy Investment Fund and workforce development initiatives.
Mayor Wu can take the lead by adopting the Massport Model for Boston, ensuring that all our communities share in the economic benefits associated with development projects in the city.