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Bank of America may sell landmark Boston tower

Move part of lender’s effort to raise capital

Neal Hamberg/Bloomberg News/File 2003

Bank of America Corp.’s office tower at 100 Federal St. is known for the distinctive bulge above its base.

Bank of America Corp., the region’s largest bank, is considering selling its landmark skyscraper in Boston’s Financial District, the latest in a string of moves to streamline its operations and raise capital.

The 37-floor office tower at 100 Federal St., known for the distinctive bulge above its base, is one of the tallest buildings in Boston and has long been a symbol of Boston’s strength in banking. It served for decades as the headquarters of Bank of Boston and its successor, FleetBoston Financial, before Bank of America bought Fleet eight years ago.

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The reddish brown tower is likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Exchange Place, a slightly smaller building at 53 State St., sold in December for $610 million. And 33 Arch St., another notable office building in the area, fetched $365 million last year.

Bank of America has maintained the building as one of its largest regional centers, but recently started selling many of its prized properties across the country to free up cash.

Regulators have pushed Bank of America and other major banks to build larger cash reserves to help ensure sure they can weather a prolonged economic downturn or future financial turmoil.

Earlier this week, Bank of America said it planned to sell one high rise in New York and two in Charlotte, N.C., where it is based. Yesterday, spokesman T.J. Crawford said the bank is considering selling the Boston office tower as well.

“Real estate ownership is not a core business for Bank of America,’’ Crawford said.

But Crawford said the bank remains committed to Boston, one of its key markets. Even if Bank of America sells the building, it would likely lease back much of the space from the new owner, just as it plans to do with the buildings in New York and Charlotte. Bank of America operates 270 branches and has about 7,000 employees in Massachusetts.

Many companies lease, rather than own, their office buildings to avoid tying up money in real estate, making it available to invest elsewhere. But the move is a change in strategy for Bank of America, which has historically owned most of its major office properties.

The bank is trying to boost profits by focusing on its core business and selling off ancillary units. Last year, the company sold $34 billion in peripheral businesses, such as its stake in China Construction Bank Corp.

The Boston tower, built 40 years ago, is generally considered the sixth-tallest building in the city at 591 feet.

Bank of America occupies about two-thirds of the building, but it is also home to other tenants, including the Boston College Club on the 36th floor.

Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan, who lives in Wellesley, often works in the tower, but his main office is in Charlotte.

It is likely that many real estate investment trusts and other institutional investors will be interested in the building if Bank of America puts it on the market because it has the potential to generate a reliable, steady stream of income from tenants, said Lisa Campoli, an executive vice president at Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm with offices in Boston.

The downtown Boston office market is considered especially healthy compared to some other cities, where unemployment is higher or developers built too much space before the economy slowed.

“It’s a very strong market for that sort of investment,’’ Campoli said. “There’s plenty of pent-up demand among institutional investors for core real estate investments.’’

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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