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Seaport Square Project Obtains Approval to Switch from Residential to Office Space

Business continues to boom in Boston’s Seaport District, which is rapidly turning into yet another hot pocket of innovation in a city that is already bursting at its seams with life sciences and biotech activity. However, an in-the-works project that was originally to focus on providing residential housing now appears to have been reinvented. In early September, WS Development, the developer behind the proposed residential development at 350 Summer Street in the Seaport, requested approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency to update its plans. Instead of being reserved for residential units, the new property will be almost exclusively focused on providing lab, office and research space.

Not surprisingly, news of the switch raised concerns among those who are already worried about a dire lack of housing not just in the Seaport but across Greater Boston. In switching the project at 350 Summer Street from residential to lab/office, the developers appear to have eliminated the addition of around 3,200 new units that would have provided much-needed housing in this burgeoning part of the city. However, the developer has already stated that its plans for the residential tower are still in the works; instead of offering sprawling luxury condos or apartments, however, the residential project will likely offer smaller, more affordable housing – another thing that is sorely lacking around the city.

In its request to switch the project from residential to office/lab space, WS Development provided updated information about what the property at 350 Summer Street would include. The new plans call for a building that offers around 350,000 square feet of office and research space. Another 38,000 square feet will be set aside for restaurants, retail and entertainment. Originally, the plans for the site called for 350,000 square feet of residential space and 72,000 square feet of restaurant, retail and entertainment space.

The most is hardly a gutsy one given the current climate of the Boston economy. Life sciences and biotech have been exploding in the region for many years, and a flood of funding has been streaming into the region for some time too. With dozens of world-class universities, colleges and research facilities in the area, there is a vast pool of talent for such firms to draw from. Clearly, developers realized that the site at 350 Summer Street would be a prime location for companies like these; the question is whether there will be enough nearby housing to accommodate all of the new workers.

With that being said, it appears that WS Development likely already has an anchor tenant for its new office/lab/research building at Seaport Square. Cambridge-based Foundation Medicine, a huge life sciences firm, currently holds the right of first refusal for space at the proposed site. The firm already acquired 580,000 square feet of space at 400 Summer Street, which is now its new headquarters. The firm has not yet stated whether it will make use of the site at 350 Summer Street, but plenty of other companies are sure to be interested in the space.

The 33-acre Seaport Square project has been transforming this rapidly evolving Boston neighborhood for some time, and work on it will continue for the next few years. 350 Summer Street is just one example of the many projects that have gone through the pipeline to turn this part of the city into yet another innovation hub of sorts. In fact, it is beginning to appear that a vast amount of new life sciences, lab and research space will likely open up in the Seaport for the foreseeable future – and that means that more housing will be needed too.

As noted above, however, WS Development has not abandoned plans to develop a vast residential development at Seaport Square. The firm still plans to develop a property that will include the promised 3,200 residential units. Rather than being luxury condos or apartments, however, the units are likelier to be smaller and more affordable. Of course, that could still change. Until plans are officially filed, anything is possible. Stay tuned to Boston City Properties for ongoing updates regarding projects in Seaport Square and throughout the Greater Boston region.