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Boston office building, once WeWork’s largest US site, could become lab space

It’s the latest indication of an ongoing boom in the region’s life sciences industry.

745 Atlantic AvenueOxford Properties Group

The owner of 745 Atlantic Ave., once home to the largest US co-working office operated by WeWork, wants to remake the building to serve life sciences firms in need of lab space.

Landlord Oxford Properties this week told the Boston Planning & Development Agency that it intends to convert 155,000 square feet of commercial space as it seeks a new anchor tenant for the three-decade- old building near South Station.

The move, which requires public review and approvals because it would change how the building is used, is another signal of the evolving commercial real estate market in Boston.

Matthew Polhemus, director of leasing at Oxford Properties, said the building’s conversion would “create a more flexible space for a variety of companies — from traditional office users to life sciences to innovation economy companies.”

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“Equally important, we have the opportunity to create a more dynamic ground floor experience that benefits both the companies located in the building and the broader neighborhood,” Polhemus said in a statement. “As a location that is just steps from South Station, close to both the Financial District and Seaport, we know this will be an attractive spot for companies that want to build on the strengths of the local talent pool.”

The 11-story property currently has about 159,000 square feet of office space and 1,800 square feet of ground floor retail.

Developers all around the region are shifting their focus from conventional offices to specialized spaces built to suit life sciences firms as the industry booms in Massachusetts. The trend is also promising for landlords who believe lab workers as more likely than traditional office employees to return to work in person following the pandemic.

Liz Berthelette, research director at real estate firm Newmark, said the surge in development of lab space in downtown Boston is a result of the relative lack of supply around Kendall Cambridge’s Square, long the epicenter of the research and development industry here.

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Landlords see a chance to meet an obvious need, even as the Seaport District develops its own center of gravity on life sciences.

“That movement out from Cambridge...has pushed asset owners, investors, developers to refocus on lab products to meet this demand,” Berthelette said.

Berthelette said her firm has been tracking various plans to construct or retrofit a total of 23 million square feet of lab space in the region’s office market, which would nearly double the 27 million square feet that exists. She said about 10 million square feet of space are under construction, and about half has committed tenants.

Others earlier in planning phases could choose not to go forward with construction if the market doesn’t bear out.

In its filing before the BPDA, Oxford properties said the planned shift would allow it to serve either research and development tenants or traditional offices.

The remake of the Atlantic Avenue property would be a significant change, given that it was home to coworking space leased by WeWork, once among Boston’s top users of office space.

The company has done away with some of its high-profile offices around the world as it has attempted to find its footing following an ill-fated 2019 IPO. Though WeWork has held on to many of its other offices in Boston, the departure early this year from the Atlantic Avenue building left the property mostly vacant.

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Oxford Properties in May sued WeWork for $1.8 million in back rent, which it says the company owes after abruptly shutting down its office in late February. That case remains pending in Suffolk Superior Court.




Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.