The Hub in Boston: Delaware North complex turns arena into neighborhood, with lesson for Buffalo (2024)

Tim O'Shei

BOSTON – In this city dotted with landmark-filled communities, Charlie Jacobs has built one of his own. The history is shorter. The landmarks – like the statue of an exuberant Bobby Orr from the 1970 Stanley Cup – honor events that happened a couple of generations ago, not a few centuries ago.

The neighborhood is getting busier – and not just on hockey and basketball game nights.

“This didn’t used to be a community,” Jacobs said from his office in the Boston Bruins’ headquarters. Jacobs, a native of Buffalo, is CEO of the Bruins, which his family has owned for nearly a half century. He’s also one of the third-generation CEOs of his family’s $4.3 billion hospitality business, Buffalo-based Delaware North.

For three decades, the Bruins and Delaware North have been vying to turn this arena section of Boston into a vibrant place where people spent time – and money – even when there’s not a Bruins or NBA Celtics game at the TD Garden.

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They did it, and that’s why Jacobs is standing here today, looking out his 14th-floor conference room at sweeping views of the city, and talking about “community.”

Years ago, he added, “there was nothing here but (subway) lines and a highway.”

It was a problem that should sound familiar in Buffalo, where progress has been made in the Canalside neighborhood near KeyBank Center, but the streets are nowhere near as busy as they are on game nights.

Today, in a similar neighborhood of Boston, there’s much more. A renovated arena, a hotel, multiple restaurants and a food hall, a luxury-living apartment complex, a cinema, a grocery store, and the office tower Jacobs is standing in now.

With those things come what you need most: People. Every day.

* * *

In 1975, when Jeremy Jacobs Sr. bought the Bruins, he made the deal over the phone. Afterward, he headed to Boston to see the Boston Garden, which he also bought.

The Hub in Boston: Delaware North complex turns arena into neighborhood, with lesson for Buffalo (1)

What the elder Jacobs saw then was a historic but bare-bones arena that needed revenue-driving TLC. The doors of the fire escapes were often kept open and fans were sneaking into games for free. So Jeremy Jacobs, who today is chairman of the privately held Delaware North, put some basic business practices into place.

One of the first? Closing the fire-escape doors and having every fan pay for a ticket.

But the elder Jacobs noticed something else: Walking through North Station, the train depot that abutted the Garden, he sensed shadiness.

“I can remember going down into the station, and this will put it into perspective: There were quite a few bookmakers that were using the pay phones in the lobby of the station,” Jeremy Jacobs recalled in a recent interview from his office in Delaware North’s Buffalo headquarters. “It wasn’t really a desirable place to be.”

Early on, and long before Charlie Jacobs’ involvement, Jeremy Jacobs set a vision for turning Boston’s arena section into something more. In 1995, the Bruins opened the new TD Garden, replacing the now-demolished original arena. About five years later, Charlie Jacobs moved to Boston full time to lead the Bruins.

By 2013, the younger Jacobs was overseeing a series of massive construction projects: a $70 million renovation to TD Garden in 2014, which was followed by another $100 million renovation in 2019, and an overhaul of the in-arena entertainment system in 2021.

Those projects, for the most part, were contained to the arena experience. But during the same period, Jacobs was leading a project broader in scope: building a mixed-use complex that would see activity every day. This was a goal his father set when the Bruins and Delaware North built the new Garden in the mid-’90s. “The only way we really could justify the new building was by having the opportunity to develop this other space, which would give us the economic lift,” the elder Jacobs said.

This vision would eventually become the Hub on Causeway, named for Causeway Street, which runs in front of the arena. Delaware North teamed with developer BXP on the project, which cost more than $1.1 billion and was privately financed.

Work began on the Hub project in 2013 and finished in 2019, although the pandemic delayed the opening of some parts of it to 2021. Today, it includes places to live, eat, shop and work. Jeremy Jacobs is especially struck by the inclusion of the office tower, which is affixed with the name of its leading tenant, Verizon, and is 100% occupied.

“It’s natural that you might have a hotel there, but would you have an office building? That office building came in over the top – I didn’t see it,” he said. “Charlie took a lot of licenses doing this … and he came up with a hell of a building. I think he showed more vision than I did, and I’m glad that he did it.”

* * *

An arena project done right can connect different parts of a city. That’s what is happening in Boston.

“The North End of Boston is right there,” Jacobs said, pointing to the historic neighborhood that includes Paul Revere’s house. “The West End is to our right,” he added, motioning toward the waterfront neighborhood dotted with museums and galleries.

Before this, foot traffic was sparse outside the arena on event nights. Tourists and residents would spend time in the West End along the Charles River, and in the historical North End both for the history and the bars and restaurants. But the arena was a deadened space that separated the two.

Now, Causeway Street is busy daily. Boston’s historical neighborhood is more tightly connected to the city core, because people can walk from one to the next and find places to stop, shop and eat.

Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who later became President Biden’s secretary of labor and now heads the NHL Players Association, called the Hub on Causeway a “gateway” into the city. “It’s one of the first things you see when you’re heading into Boston from the north,” he said.

As Boston mayor from 2014 to 2021, Walsh worked with Jacobs on the project.

“It really has enhanced that whole neighborhood,” Walsh said. “It was great before, but it’s enhanced it a little more. People can walk. Boston is becoming more and more of a walking city … (and) it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for people to explore Boston and see other parts of Boston.”

* * *

During a tour of the arena, Jacobs pointed to multiple bars and standing-room areas as well as a more-exclusive dining space for suite holders.

“When we built the building, we had premium suites, but we didn’t really have a premium area for people to come in and have a meal pre- or post,” he said. “We wanted to have a premium area where, if people are coming in at 5:30, have a drink if you’re entertaining somebody, and we’ll have sit-down service.”

He pointed out a concession stand that uses Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology, meaning that fans scan their phone while entering, grab their food, and are charged automatically – no cashier involved. Jacobs also offered a sneak peek at the Bruins’ just-opened Heritage Hall, a hall of fame-style museum within the arena that chronicles the history of the team, which turned 100 years old this season.

On the ground floor is a rinkside/courtside club designed for holders of the most premium seating for both Bruins and Celtics games, and then Jacobs headed to the locker room area, where he pointed out a spacious, lounge-style room filled with leather couches and high-top tables for players’ families.

“We talk about wanting to be a destination for both NBA and National Hockey League players,” Jacobs said. “One of the things that gets often overlooked is family rooms. We wanted to design a space that was safe, and where they could hang out and it could be their own.”

For current players and potential free agents, he said, “This is important. It’s more important than you think for players.”

* * *

The arena itself is a busy place, with close to 100 sports games a year plus concerts. Last year, TD Garden had 62 concerts that brought 674,000 attendees and grossed $82.3 million, according to Billboard. The publication ranked it as the sixth-busiest concert venue in the world. Everywhere you turn, inside and outside the venue, there’s an opportunity to eat, shop or — of course — purchase tickets.

There is a sense of community, both inside and outside the venue. Much as the Delaware North development has linked sections of Boston, the same may be possible in Buffalo as the Sabres look in the coming years to initiate their own significant renovations to KeyBank Center.

John Cimperman, a longtime sports marketing executive who has worked in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Buffalo, points to Delaware North’s Boston development as an inspiration for what can happen – albeit on a smaller scale – in Buffalo.

“The arena district downtown is really vital for the entire city (of Buffalo),” said Cimperman, who hopes a Sabres arena renovation can be part of a master plan that links waterfront sites more closely with Buffalo’s Cobblestone District and the buildings near the arena, including the former Buffalo News building, which was recently purchased by developer Douglas Jemal.

“We’re only as good as our core,” Cimperman said, “and a strong core benefits everybody, in the city as well as the suburbs.”

llow Tim O’Shei on Twitter @timoshei.

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The Hub in Boston: Delaware North complex turns arena into neighborhood, with lesson for Buffalo (2024)

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