Luxury condominiums in and around Boston’s Downtown Crossing neighborhood aren’t seeing the same demand as others in the Seaport District or Back Bay

Reality has yet to catch up with all the years of hype about the promise of “Midtown,” maybe best known for the posh Millennium Tower and the hum-drum shopping district it lords over. 

“Midtown,” as the area around Downtown Crossing has been rebranded in real estate circles, has been billed as one of Boston’s top development frontiers for decades now, but somehow its time has never really arrived, even as the Seaport has finally started to come into its own. 

Millennium Partners has built hundreds of multi-million-dollar condominiums and rentals over the past two decades in and around Downtown Crossing along Washington Street. 

But even the 442-unit Millennium Tower, with its $37.5 million penthouse, has failed to do much to inject new excitement into the surrounding neighborhood, which remains the same old Downtown Crossing, for good and ill. 

No, there’s nothing terribly wrong with Downtown Crossing, but with its big chain retailers like Macy’s, it remains for many a place you cross through to get to somewhere else. 

That lack of enthusiasm is apparently shared not just by tourists and day-trippers, but luxury condo buyers as well. 

‘Wicked Slow’ Sales 

Luxury condo sales are rebounding across most of downtown Boston in neighborhoods like the Back Bay, the South End and Beacon Hill, but they are lagging significantly in Midtown. 

It now takes, on average, 181 days for a condo in Midtown to land a buyer, four times as long as the Seaport and well above the average for the Back Bay and South End as well. 

“The numbers I have seen are wicked slow,” said David Bates, a broker associate at William Raveis Real Estate. 

At the current pace of sales, it would currently take 15 months to burn through backlog of condo listings in Midtown, Bates said. 

That’s compared to three months for the luxury condo market in downtown Boston as a whole. 

The neighborhood backlog includes a number of condos at the Millennium Tower, headlined by the grand penthouse at the top of the deluxe skyrise. 

A hedge fund tycoon snapped up the 13,000-square-foot sky palace for a bargain $37.5 a few years ago, only to later turn around and try and resell it for $45 million. 

The penthouse has been the market now for 919 days, with no takers yet. 

Not alone, a three-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath, 2,773 square foot corner residence near the top of Millennium Tower, listed for just under $6.5 million, has sat on the market for 212 days, while a 759-square-foot cubbyhole of a one-bedroom at the base of the tower, priced at little over $1 million dollars, has gone unsold for 192 days. 

There are also dozens of condos at the Millennium Tower that are being rented out, either having been bought by speculators or foreign or other buyers who haven’t made the tower their primary residence. 

Seaport, Back Bay Offer Competition 

That stands in stark contrast to the downtown Boston market as a whole, from Back Bay down to the Seaport, which has seen a dramatic rebound in sales of luxury condos. 

There have been 233 accepted offers so far this year on condos worth $1.5 million and up, blowing away the 145 deals this time last year amid the pandemic. Tellingly, though, it also tops the 192 accepted offers for luxury condos seen through the first four months of 2019, according to Bates. 

So, what’s the problem? 

Well one factor may be increased competition. 

Millennium Partners’ various Midtown condo projects, like now two-decade-old Ritz-Carlton towers on Lower Washington Street and the Millennium Tower, as well as towers put up by other developers, like 45 Province, and the W Boston (though maybe you could argue that’s in the city’s postage-stamp sized Theater District) were long seen as providing a less expensive alternative for buyers seeking brand spanking new units with all the latest amenities. 

But now the various posh mid-rises in the Seaport are giving Midtown condo buildings a run for their money, while there are new luxury alternatives in the South End as well. 

Private Islands in Sea of ‘Meh’ 

Still, it’s also possible there is something deeper going on as well. 

Bates noted he recently blogged about full-service luxury condo towers that have effectively become little “islands,” disconnected from the surrounding neighborhood. 

And Midtown is a prime example of this phenomenon. 

Scott Van Voorhis

If you didn’t know much about Boston and were scrolling around online, Midtown would probably look fine enough, similar to the kind of quasi-redeveloped downtown feel you find in many aging cities across the Northeast and the Midwest. 

Add the cachet of a Boston location, then a condo at the Millennium Tower or another of high-rise address in Midtown might look like just the thing, especially when comparing prices with the Back Bay. 

But once you touch down, you will sooner or later become disabused of the idea that this is the best Boston has to offer the luxury condo buyer, especially after strolling around the nearby Back Bay. 

Of course, that’s pure speculation, albeit a bit informed by local knowledge.  

But remember that penthouse for sale atop the Millennium Tower? 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at   

What’s the Problem with Downtown Crossing?

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 4 min