June 30, 2021 New leadership at HBI: Meet Michael Durand
At the April meeting of Historic Boston’s board of directors, Michael Durand of Back Bay Development Group was elected to the position of president. Michael replaces Kathy MacNeil who had completed two three-year terms as president. Michael graduated from the University of Denver in 1983 with a degree in real estate finance and construction management. Michael’s knowledge of financing and the local lending markets have enable him to maintain his reputation as one of the leading residential developers in the Boston area. Since joining the board in 2016 Michael has been an enthusiastic supporter of HBI’s mission.
What are your main goals as HBI’s new board president? What will a successful term as HBI president look like to you?
I will consider my term successful if I am able to leave things as sound of a state as when I began as president — which is a high standard. Kathy MacNeil will be a hard act to follow. I see my main role as offering guidance and expertise to the staff who do a terrific job fulfilling and chasing HBI vision and mission every day. There are several things at the forefront of our post-COVID world. We will revisit our strategic plan and how we achieve our preservation mission. Our board has diverse and strong voices that will guide us on our path forward. As we emerge from COVID’s effects, I want to focus on the Old Corner Bookstore and how we can reposition the landmark building. It’s a jewel and a wonderful asset; it is also the lifeblood of HBI. It will be great to come up with a master plan for that.
What current HBI project is most exciting to you? Do you have a favorite completed project? What made it stand out to you?
Our preservation plans at St. James African Orthodox Church in Roxbury have been challenging and yet equally exciting from a development standpoint. Our goal has never wavered: save the church. Whether that’s an HBI project, a partnership with a non-profit or a for-profit developer or some variation on that, we are committed to that site’s protection and revitalization. So as projects ho, it’s tough to say what’s most exciting – the repositioning of the Old Corner Bookstore, the renewal of St. James, or any of the other opportunities that we are currently pursuing. Each one’s preservation will be an important victory for their neighborhood and for Boston.
As for past favorites, the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm in Mattapan has been the most exciting to me. HBI took on that project right when I joined the board of directors. I was new and seeing a site in serious distress, while HBI and UFI were imagining fantastic possibilities. Watching the transformation of the site’s barn, house, and land was an inspiring, but it also showed me the HBI style, which includes input from different organizations, municipal offices, and the community.
How does your work at Back Bay Development Group inform your approach to HBI’s non-profit preservation mission?
My strength coming from Back Bay Development Group is knowing the market, buying, selling, and construction. Through my work, I have a finger on the pulse of the city of Boston; I understand the process required for developing projects.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing Boston’s development and real estate fields?
From a developer’s perspective, a big factor is the upcoming mayoral election and what it means for the landscape of development. How will permitting and approval work? What will the process be? Will city hall’s priorities for development and methods of approving projects change?
There are also higher post-COVID costs for things like construction, materials, and labor. HBI needs to be cognizant of how those factors will affect its projects. We hope that things will get back to a workable point in 6-12 months.
Overall, Boston needs to continue to focus on moderate and affordable housing. We need policies and programs in place to incentivize private development of low and moderate priced housing in the city. These policies and programs need to work for the developers and the city in order for it be successful. We hope that the new mayor and staff will prioritize this important issue.