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At 91, apartment developer Harold Brown ‘can’t conceive’ of retirement

Catherine Carlock Real Estate Editor Boston Business Journal

Harold Brown is chairman and CEO of Allston-based Hamilton Co.

W. MARC BERNSAU | BUSINESS JOURNAL

Business Journal Real Estate Editor Catherine Carlock caught up with real estate developer Harold Brown to chat about Hamilton Co.'s newest apartment project, the future of Allston and why, at 91, he’s not even considering retirement.

Harold Brown is wearing a brace that goes from ankle to thigh — he twisted his knee while out on a construction site a few days ago. But the brace didn’t prevent the 91-year-old real estate developer from hitting the gym, as he does every morning between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. The gym has a sign that Brown believes in: “Take care of your body; it’s the only place you have to live.”

The irony, of course, is that Brown’s Hamilton Co. is the largest privately held apartment landlord in New England. The Allston-based company, which Brown founded 62 years ago, has launched its latest project: an $85 million mixed-use project near Packard’s Corner. The first phase, a 48-unit complex at 50 Malvern St., is already under construction; Hamilton Co. last week submitted plans to the Boston Redevelopment Authority to build another 114 units on Brighton Avenue and Gardner Street.

I caught up with Brown to chat about the future of Allston and why, at 91, he’s not even considering retirement.

Hamilton Co. has built thousands of apartments, but the highest concentration is clustered around Brighton Avenue near Packard’s Corner. What’s the benefit?

For one, the location. With all of the current redevelopment in Boston, it’s very strategic, because it’s at the crossroads of Commonwealth Avenue and Brighton Avenue. It’s easy access into town. It’s near the Turnpike, near Route 9. It offers an alternative into downtown Boston with easy access, and with rents about 60 percent of those in downtown Boston.

What’s your vision for the future of Allston?

Essentially downtown will move down here. It’s going to be a second Boston. Housing, amenities, access to big universities and the hospitals. You have Harvard and BU expanding, and New Balance building a $500 million complex down the street. We’re at the center of it all.

Part of New Balance’s Boston Landing campus is a 295-unit apartment complex. Do you see that competing with Hamilton Co. apartments?

I’ve known (New Balance Athletics Chairman) Jim Davis for a long time. And we actually own a building on the edge of that site, on Beacon Street. We will, in the next five to six years, build an apartment building on that site — which will help Jim, and I’ve told him.

You were born and raised in Allston. Is creating housing in your hometown a way of establishing your legacy?

I don’t look at it as a legacy. I do it because I enjoy doing it. It creates housing; it creates employment. It’s fun. We’re able to assist a lot of charitable organizations — I think we give about $4 million a year to charities. What more could you want?

Do you see yourself doing this forever?

What’s the alternative?

Retirement?

And do what? I can’t conceive of it. I give a lot of talks at different business meetings, and some kid always stands up and says: ‘Mr. Brown, how do you make money in real estate?’ You know what I tell them? Stay alive.

Catherine Carlock covers Greater Boston's commercial real estate industry.