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Transformation of South End Continues with Approval of New Office Building

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, or BRA, has been quite busy over the last several years. Things seem to be reaching a fever pitch of sorts, with the agency approving several projects during its September 15, 2016, session. Several projects were approved during that session, but a couple are particularly noteworthy. Namely, the BRA approved a project for the construction of a new office building at 321 Harrison Avenue in the South End. For a long time, new construction in the neighborhood has revolved around residential, but it appears that this is about to change. As always, Boston City Properties is keeping close tabs of this story, and we will continue to bring you updates as it unfolds.

In the meantime, let's take a look at the most notable project that was approved by the BRA during that mid-September session. Construction of the mid-rise office building is slated to begin in the spring of 2017. Developers expect it to be completed sometime in 2018, which is pretty ambitious. The building is being built by New York-based investment firm Rubenstein Partners in conjunction with Burlington-based Nordblom Development Co. Their plans call for an 11-story office building that will overlook the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-93.

This project breaks away from a pattern that we have been seeing lately--namely, intense residential construction throughout the South End. However, its fruition has largely come about because of those housing projects. Indeed, the addition of more than 1,000 new luxury condos and apartments in the neighborhood has attracted many young professionals. A consider number of them are in the biotech and bioscience fields. Currently, many of them face fairly aggravating commutes, as there hasn't been much of a bioscience and biotech presence in the neighborhood. That is changing rapidly, however, and the new 11-story office building is clear evidence of this.

The developers have stated that they are trying to attract top-tier bioscience and biotech firms to their new building. Indeed, the developers are envisioning a building that offers "headquarters-quality corporate office space." Therefore, we can expect that the new building will be thoroughly modern. It will likely offer the latest and most in-demand amenities and services--at least, it should if it wants to attract the types of companies that the developers are seeking.

Rubenstein Partners and Nordblom Development Co. acquired the development site as well as the adjacent 1000 Washington Street building in early 2015 for $75 million. The new building and the existing one, which primarily houses state agencies, will share a common lobby. Together, they will offer more than 466,000 square feet of office space. The question, of course, is how quickly that space will be snapped up.

Developers may be a tiny bit apprehensive about the project for one pretty significant reason: Similar developments in the area have struggled to attract tenants. Thus far, it seems that the tipping point for white-collar jobs in the area hasn't been reached. Blue collar jobs still exceed white collar ones here, so the perception continues to be that the area isn't amenable to bioscience and biotech firms. Developers of the project at 321 Harrison Avenue are clearly hoping that by the time the building opens, demand will be high enough for space there to be filled quickly.

History of the Area

For many years, this part of South End was overwhelmingly industrial. As the city's economy moved away from manufacturing and toward high-tech industries, many companies here shut their doors. When it became apparent that industrial companies wouldn't be returning to the area, the city decided to take action. Many parts of South End were rezoned to allow for taller buildings and for more housing. This opened the doors to the huge spike in construction activity that we have seen in South End lately. The housing part has gone well, with apartments and condos filling up rapidly. Now, it's just a matter of time before office space follows suit.


So, when will the new office building be open--and what will it be like? Developers expect the new building alone to offer more than 230,000 square feet of Class A office space. Eight floors of the building will be dedicated to office space, and an addition three floors below will consist of secure garage parking. The building will surely include the most in-demand amenities, including concierge services for tenants and workers and a variety of business services.

Other Developments that Were Approved During the BRA Session

While the upcoming project at 321 Harrison in South End made the biggest splash at the BRA meeting on September 15, the agency approved a few others during that session as well. However, these projects aren't happening in South End. The first, a 171-unit apartment complex, will be constructed in Charlestown. It will be located near Sullivan Square. The developer, Berkeley Investments, plans to reuse an existing building on the site and to build an additional, new one too. The two buildings will presumably be connected by a common lobby.

While the project in Charlestown was approved, specific details were not made available. Therefore, we are not sure if this will be a true luxury apartment development or something different. If we had to guess, though, we'd say that the new development will be for high-end luxury apartments, as that is pretty much par for the course these days in Boston. The building, which doesn't have even a working name yet, will probably offer a variety of high-end amenities and services, including a 24-hour fitness center, pet services, Zipcar access, 24-hour concierge services and other perks. We aren't sure how high the building will be, but it will likely include a rooftop deck or terrace of some kind.

During that same session, the BRA also approved two new apartment developments that will be built over in Brighton. The first is being developed by Hamilton Co. It will consist of a 114-unit apartment development in Packard's Corner. The addition of 114 new apartments should work well in the area, as it continues to become more and more prominent. As with the other project, no additional details have been made available yet. Again, however, we believe that this will be another luxury apartment building with rents to match.

The other apartment development that was approved for Brighton will be a little different. It is being developed by Brighton Marine Health Center and WinnCompanies, and it will offer affordable housing for veterans. It will be located on Commonwealth Avenue. Thus far, no additional information has been made public--not even how many units will be offered. Given the fact that this will be affordable housing, this development isn't going to have those high-end features and amenities. However, it will be a welcome addition to a neighborhood where people are increasingly being priced out of even the most modest apartments.

A New Trend for South End?

After so much new housing development, could South End be ready to shift its focus to bringing in new companies? Hopes are high that the new office building on Harrison will be the impetus that bioscience and biotech firms around the city need to take a closer look. Such companies want to make life easier for their employees, so if enough of them see that employees are living in South End, they may find the value in relocating there. If Nordblom and Rubenstein Partners struggle to attract tenants, however, they may have shift away from trying to attract large corporations and focus on drawing in smaller firms--even startups.

Once a few new companies have moved into this part of South End, we could very well seem a boom in office construction here too. In fact, the big push for adding new housing units to the neighborhood may finally be coming to an end. Currently, the neighborhood is a little lopsided, with so much new construction focusing on residential and so little focusing on commercial. If the tide turns, we could see better balance in the neighborhood within five to 10 years--which means that more people will live, work and play there rather than roaming elsewhere in the city.

How Boston City Properties Can Help

Whether you own a bioscience or biotech company, work for one or are just interested in buying a place in South End, Boston City Properties can help. We will continue to track the progress of the new office building at 321 Harrison Avenue for you, so check back often. When the time comes, we can help you acquire the office space that you need in the new building or in a different one in the area.

Our team can also help you find a new place to live in South End. Whether you need office space or a new apartment or condo, you can't go wrong by connecting with Boston City Properties. First, sign up to get free, instant access to our searchable database. Listings are updated continually, so you can rest assured that you are getting the latest and best information at all times. Our search tool allows you to focus on a specific neighborhood, and you can use filters to zero in on properties that suit your requirements. Later, we can also put you in touch with commercial or residential real estate experts in the neighborhood who can assist you further.

Will the construction boom in Boston ever end? At this point, there is no end in sight. Boston City Properties continually tracks the progress of major construction projects around the city, so check back regularly for updates. While you're at it, complete the simple form to gain immediate, unlimited access to our database. It's the most extensive MA real estate database around, so you should be able to find what you need fast. If you need more information or require further assistance, do not hesitate to contact Boston City Properties.