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Lafayette Center set to get major makeover

Yet another prominent downtown Boston property is about to undergo a dramatic transformation.

The owner of Lafayette Corporate Center, one of the largest commercial buildings on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing, is seeking to refresh the complex with new and larger retail stores, a redesigned lobby, and restaurants to serve a growing residential population in the district.

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Executives with The Abbey Group expect the changes will attract new tenants to replace the main occupant, State Street Corp., which is moving to the Seaport in 2014, and will also position the 610,000-square-foot property to take advantage of the downtown’s blossoming revitalization.

“Instead of just a corporate office center, we want it to be more mixed-use with retail and restaurants,” said The Abbey Group’s chief executive, Robert Epstein, who added that the building has been renamed Lafayette City Center to reflect it’s broader focus.

In recent months, Epstein said, his company has received interest in the property from large-footprint retailers, several restaurants, and potential office users. He said no new tenants have been signed.

The property is situated at the center of a rapidly changing section of Washington Street where downtown merges with Chinatown. Formerly a drug- and crime-infested ­area known as the Combat Zone, it now boasts newly renovated ­theaters and some of the most ­expensive residences in the city.

Two large residential towers are under construction nearby, and a third is supposed to get underway next year at the former Filene’s property a few blocks away. The Abbey Group is seeing increasing sales activity at 45 Province, a condominium building it opened in 2009 during the depths of the economic downturn. The building now has 70 percent of its units sold or under agreement, executives said.

‘We’re getting tremendous interest from businesses that have never really looked at this area before.’

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Meanwhile, the area has also attracted many new retail shops and restaurants, including the eatery Back Deck and Avery Provision Co., an upscale grocer.

Early next year, Walgreen Co. is scheduled to open a new emporium that will include a hair and nail salon, a sushi bar, and an expansive natural foods section with locally sourced produce and specialty items.

“We’re getting tremendous interest from businesses that have never really looked at this area before,” said Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, an association of neighborhood property owners.

While property values and rents have increased in recent years, the downtown remains an affordable alternative to the Back Bay and the red-hot Seaport District, where the supply of commercial space is rapidly dwindling.

The six-story Lafayette City Center will have 450,000 square feet available by the summer of 2014, when State Street moves to a new office complex it is constructing in the Seaport. The Lafayette building currently has small strip of retail tenants that includes Eddie Bauer, Citizens Bank, Expressions, and the healthy fast-food chain UFood Grill.

Executives with The Abbey Group said they are talking with retailers about two- and three-story options that could dramatically reshape the property. Also under consideration is a new restaurant at the corner of Avenue de Lafayette and Washington Street, where the property faces the Millennium Place condominiums under construction.

“We want our building to look and feel like the environment it’s now sitting in,” said Epstein. “It’s becoming one of the premier areas of the city.”

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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