When Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia A. Rissmeyer arrived at Emmanuel in 1996, the Fenway was a different place. The Sears building—now the Landmark Center—was vacant. Stretches of the Muddy River were hidden underground. Fenway Park was as grand as ever, but the surrounding streets offered limited appeal.
Twenty years later, that picture of the Fenway seems implausible. "It is a rebirth," says Dr. Rissmeyer. There's a vibrancy here now that she says is palpable—the energy in the coffee shops, people on the streets and in restaurants, the Muddy River flowing above ground, its path open and bright. "It's really exciting to see," she says.
Interest in the neighborhood is rising. According to United States Census data, the population in the Fenway-Kenmore area rose from 32,880 in 1990 to 40,989 in 2010. This influx has been followed by a surge in development. One real estate developer alone, Steven Samuels, has invested $2 billion in the Fenway in just the past decade, launching everything from the hip Verb Hotel to the Van Ness—which occupies a full city block and features 237,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of retail space.
Also moving in is the startup set. In 2015, Hatch Fenway took up residence in the Landmark Center with the goal of incubating new local companies. One of those companies, Toast—a point-of-sale platform for restaurants—told TheFenway.com that the neighborhood's energy, proximity to colleges, and high concentration of restaurants made their choice of location a "no brainer." Between August 2015 and February of this year alone, BostInno reported that 10 new startups moved to the Fenway, occupying 430,000 square feet of office space and employing 2,300. Infotech and biotech companies alike are taking advantage of the opportunity: In August, Decibel Therapuetics—which is developing treatments for hearing loss—announced they were building new lab space and offices in the Fenway and bringing their 100 employees and $52 million in funding to the neighborhood.
"It's one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city," says William C. Leonard, Emmanuel's Vice President of Academic Affairs and an Associate Professor of History. The ever-present cranes hint at that. And Dr. Leonard, a specialist in the history of Boston, sees the draw: the colleges, the hospitals, the entertainment spaces, the ballpark and the Fens parklands. "If you walk on some of those side streets right across the river and down Jersey Street, it's a quiet little world in there," he says. "But, then you step out to Boylston Street, and it's one of the major thoroughfares."
But that vibrancy isn't just good for the city and the away-game tourists—it has a real impact on Emmanuel students. There are the surface improvements to the college experience you can get from having the luxury to choose between Wahlburgers and Tasty Burger for lunch and between Starbucks and Pavement Coffeehouse for study sessions. However the influx of new businesses-consumer—facing and corporate alike—offer students both near-term opportunities to earn money and a chance to further their longer-term career goals through internships.
Sometimes, those two pursuits can cross over. Dr. Rissmeyer notes the story of Rebecca Sailer '14, who as an undergraduate worked at Marshalls in the Fenway. Recently Sailer became a recruiting coordinator at TJX—parent company of HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls. "I see businesses that are thriving," says Dr. Rissmeyer. "Businesses that are creating opportunities for our students."