When Reebok made tracks for the Seaport, the Adidas subsidiary left behind some big shoes to fill in Canton.
Two years later, property owner Spear Street Capital is still trying to fill the headquarters building Reebok left behind. The futuristic complex, with more than 500,000 square feet of space, still lacks a tenant. It remains, per Colliers International research, the largest empty office building in the Boston suburbs.
Maybe not for much longer. The state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council on Thursday approved a property tax break valued at $2.9 million over five years, starting in July. The incentive is aimed at helping Spear Street reposition the 42-acre property off Royall Street near the highway, now christened “The Block.” (Renovations include a first-floor food hall.) The state panel whisked the application through without debate or discussion, a pro forma move that’s not unusual when the only tax incentive on the table is a local one already approved by the town.
San Francisco-based Spear Street bought the parcel for $76 million about two years ago, with plans for renovations, according to documents filed with the state. Michael Rak of Spear Street said he is seeing strong interest. He said the complex — four separate wings joined together by a common corridor — is being marketed to possible single users as well as multiple smaller tenants.
When the place was built two decades ago, it was constructed with one tenant in mind. Then an independent business, Reebok had outgrown its digs in nearby Stoughton and its executives sought a new home that would be bigger, fancier, more high-profile. The fitness-oriented company’s DNA remains embedded in the site. Check out the soccer field, the indoor basketball court, the outdoor track that encircles much of the base.
It sure is a beautiful building, as JP Plunkett of Red Dome Realty in Dorchester describes it. But the south-of-Boston area can be a tough leasing market, Plunkett said, particularly given the trend for employers to prefer urban settings, to attract more talent. (Exhibit A: Reebok’s run to the Seaport.) Two other office buildings on Royall Street also have big empty sections to be filled right now, Plunkett said. Maybe landing one large tenant will inspire smaller white-collar employers in the suburbs to give the Block a look.
Plunkett noted Spear Street sold a roughly 20-acre parcel next door to Trillium, the craft brewer, which should help buy the landlord some time — and some marketing cred.
Aaron Jodka, managing director of research at Colliers in Boston, said he’s heard that a number of major employers have looked at the site. It would be preferable, of course, to land a single tenant eager to establish a new corporate campus. But that’s tough to do. Consider the old John Hancock headquarters at 601 Congress Street in the Seaport, a structure similar in size and age to the Canton complex. It’s been vacant for about a year.
If filling a building in a hot part of Boston has proved to be tough, Jodka said, it stands to reason that finding a big user for such a large slug of space in the suburbs would be even more challenging. (The Route 128 commuter rail station is about three miles away, in Westwood.)
There’s no question Spear Street has a distinctive corporate campus on its hands, a tranquil oasis right off the highway. But tranquility can only go so far in a world where so many employers prefer to be in the city, in the middle of the action. As more companies squeeze into Boston and Cambridge, Spear Street hopes to prove it can buck the trend.