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Watertown’s Mount Auburn Club to close for good, sell site to lab developers

The site of the Mount Auburn Club in Watertown is being sold for redevelopment.
The site of the Mount Auburn Club in Watertown is being sold for redevelopment.Kristin Teig

Another longstanding local institution said Monday that it won’t reopen after the coronavirus crisis.

The owners of the Mount Auburn Club fitness and tennis center closed last week on a deal to sell their 6.3-acre site on Coolidge Avenue in Watertown to a pair of heavyweight local developers, who plan to build life-sciences lab and office space there.

In a letter to members Monday, the club’s owners, the Crowley family, said the coronavirus crisis pushed them to sell and close down the facility they’ve run for nearly a half-century. While gyms in Massachusetts could reopen indoor spaces starting Monday (except in Boston), many are doing so at significantly reduced capacity, unsure of their longer-term prospects for survival.

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“Like most other athletic clubs, we have struggled with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, and even now are unsure of what its long-term effects will be for our industry,” wrote Bill, Paul, and Tanya Crowley. “This uncertainty has made it difficult to be confident in the future direction of the club.”

They own more than six acres off Arsenal Street near the Charles River, in what has become a hot corridor for development in recent years, especially for life-sciences companies looking for a less-costly alternative to Kendall Square in Cambridge.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a publicly traded lab developer with deep experience in Kendall Square, and Newton-based National Development, which has built a variety of mixed-use projects around the region, teamed up to buy the club. They paid just under $33 million, according to Middlesex County property records, and plan to start meetings with the community soon about what they’ll build there, with an eye to office or lab space.

“We look forward to working with the Watertown community on an exciting new development that is consistent with the vision for reinvigorating Coolidge Avenue,” said National Development managing partner Ted Tye. “We salute the Mount Auburn Club on their many years of operation at the property and wish the Crowley family all the best.”

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It’s the latest excursion outside of Kendall Square for Alexandria, which in December paid $525 million to buy the athenahealth campus on Arsenal Street in Watertown and is partnering with National to develop the site once planned for General Electric’s corporate headquarters, on Necco Court in Boston’s Fort Point section. The pair were also runners-up in the contest to develop the first buildings at Harvard University’s Enterprise Research Campus in Allston.

Real estate experts expect that life-sciences and lab space will remain bright spots amid the broad downturn sparked by the coronavirus crisis, and a number of places around the region are vying to emerge as alternatives to space-starved Kendall Square. Eastern Watertown is one, and a string of small and mid-size life-sciences companies have moved or expanded there in recent years. Given six acres to work with, Alexandria and National Development could probably give them a lot more room to grow.

But first, the Mount Auburn Club will shut its doors. The distinctive white bubbles that cover its tennis courts will come down, and the club, the Crowleys wrote, will mail out refunds for prepaid dues and gift cards. Another longtime local institution will fade away.

“It has been especially gratifying to see how special the Mount Auburn Club was for so many — not just as a fitness and tennis center, but as a second home,” the Crowleys wrote. “Its closure will leave a void that will be hard to fill.”

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Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.