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Lab developer buys 26-acre Alewife tract

$125m deal is the latest sign the life sciences continue to thrive, despite the down economy

The 26-acre campus of GCP Applied Technologies in North Cambridge the latest big tract to trade hands in and around Alewife. The once light-industrial area is rapidly transforming into a hub for labs and housing.
The 26-acre campus of GCP Applied Technologies in North Cambridge the latest big tract to trade hands in and around Alewife. The once light-industrial area is rapidly transforming into a hub for labs and housing.Warren Patterson

Another big piece of real estate near Alewife Station on the MBTA’s Red Line is trading hands. Expect more lab space to follow soon.

The life-sciences developer IQHQ is buying the headquarters of GCP Applied Technologies, in North Cambridge, for $125 million. The companies said Wednesday that they had reached an agreement last week and expect the deal to close by early August.

The 26-acre campus is the latest major parcel to trade hands in and around Alewife. The area, once devoted to light industry, is rapidly transforming into a hub for laboratories and housing. It’s one of several places around the area that are drawing technology and life-sciences companies that are looking for cheaper or roomier alternatives to Kendall Square.

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“We are excited about the acquisition of Alewife Park, and to be able to provide tenants with a premier scalable office and laboratory campus in a renowned center for innovation,” said the buyer’s president, Tracy Murphy. “We are committed to working with the City of Cambridge and our neighbors as we usher in a new era for the site.”

GCP, which was spun out of the chemical company W.R. Grace in 2016, makes construction materials and chemicals and reached a deal with IQHQ to stay in the building, rent-free for up to two years while it looks for a new headquarters. A spokeswoman said the company, which employs about 270 people in Cambridge, plans to keep its headquarters in Greater Boston.

“We’ve been pleased to call Alewife Park home, but now is the right time for GCP to take a fresh look at its real estate needs for a global headquarters which best serves its employees, customers and brand,” chief executive Randy Dearth said in a statement.

The complex, tucked alongside a small residential neighborhood between Alewife Brook Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue, holds a series of low-slung buildings, 290,000 square feet in all, and several surface parking lots.

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It also includes “Jerry’s Pond,” a contaminated and fenced-off former swimming hole which neighborhood groups and the city have long urged Grace and GCP to clean up. An IQHQ spokesman said it’s considering the options and aims to talk with city officials and neighborhood residents about redevelopment plans for the site.

Part of the property, which is near the huge Rindge Towers affordable housing complex, sits in an opportunity zone, making it eligible for federal tax breaks designed to encourage investment in lower-income neighborhoods. The IQHQ spokesman said the company is exploring that program but hasn’t decided whether to use it.

While some real estate investment has slowed during the pandemic and resulting economic crash, life-sciences business in and around Boston continues to plow ahead.

Last week, a pair of heavyweight developers paid nearly $33 million for the six-acre site of the Mount Auburn Club, a tennis and fitness center in Watertown.

IQHQ, along with developer John Rosenthal, is getting ready to start work this fall on the long-stalled Fenway Center complex, a $1 billion project that would put a 22-story office tower oriented to the life sciences on a deck that would be built over the Massachusetts Turnpike.

And several developers are working on projects around Alewife, pitching it as a place with good access to both Cambridge and the northwestern suburbs, with rents that are often half of those found in Kendall Square.

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