The region’s biggest life science real estate developer is making a major move into the Fenway, the latest sign of the region’s hot market for lab space.
Alexandria Real Estate Equities disclosed late Tuesday that it has a $1.52 billion deal in place to buy 401 Park — the Landmark Center complex on the corner of Brookline Avenue and Park Drive — and plans to build it out as a life science hub. The site — once a huge Sears warehouse turned into office space — is one of several buildings in the Fenway that are being repositioned to house drug makers, research labs, and other health care-related companies that want to be near the booming Longwood Medical Area.
The property was bought in 2011 by prominent Fenway developer Samuels & Associates, with financial backing from an arm of JP Morgan, for $530 million. It overhauled much of the ground-floor retail space — bringing in a Time Out Market food hall and Trillium beer garden — and turned a surface lot into a park along the Emerald Necklace. It’s also at work on a 510,000-square-foot office and lab building, at 201 Brookline Ave., which is set to open in 2022. That will give the complex about 1.8 million square feet of space in all.
Samuels will remain a partner and continue to manage the property and oversee future phases of development — another corner of the site is permitted for a 400,000-square-foot office building — with Alexandria essentially replacing JP Morgan as its financial backer. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman said that the deal reflected the progress it’s made in turning a once-forlorn corner of the Fenway into a lively hub of activity.
“The historic 401 Park building has been a groundbreaking Boston icon in the way it balances dynamic, innovative commercial tenants with an active set of retail, dining, and community spaces that offer an unmatched civic experience,” said Samuels spokeswoman Diana Pisciotta. “We are pleased with Alexandria’s vote of confidence.”
For Alexandria — a California-based life science real estate giant that has been a major developer in Kendall Square for 20 years — it’s the latest in a string of investments in Greater Boston. Over the last 18 months, the real estate company has purchased — and in some cases received permits for — several projects. They include sites for lab and life science office projects in Waltham, Watertown, and the Fort Point section of South Boston, where — with partner National Development — it’s taken over the Necco Street site where General Electric once planned to build its world headquarters.
Alexandria declined comment on the deal, beyond filings made Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The publicly traded real estate trust is issuing stock to fund the deal, which is expected to close in the next few months.
Alexandria’s buying-and-building spree is part of a trend of life science development spreading out in and around Boston, as drug makers and researchers look for room to grow beyond crowded and costly Kendall Square in Cambridge. Several projects in the Seaport District have lately drawn investment from life science companies — including Biomed Realty’s purchase of the former John Hancock headquarters building at 601 Congress St., which was announced Wednesday. Meantime, developers in neighborhoods ranging from East Somerville to Allston to Columbia Point also are angling to capitalize on the growth of the life science sector.
The Fenway, not far from Longwood, is well-positioned for that as well, real estate experts say.
“It hasn’t really been a traditional lab market before. It’s always been sort of between downtown and Longwood,” said Liz Berthelette, research director at real estate firm Newmark. “But it’s starting to emerge as a viable option for commercial labs, and probably has some legs.”
Several life science firms have moved into other office buildings owned by Samuels along Boylston Street, while newly-formed life science builder IQHQ is getting ready to break ground on the long-planned Fenway Center project, which would put a $1 billion tower aimed at life science tenants atop the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Now, Alexandria, which already has deep relationships with drug makers and tech firms and operates more than 8 million square feet in office and lab space in the Boston area, is coming to the neighborhood as well.