Less than a year after Needham voters rezoned a prominent site off Route 128 to block the possibility of an Amazon warehouse, a Boston developer has bought the property with plans to put as much as a half-million square feet of office or lab space there.
Bulfinch Companies has completed the acquisition of the nearly 10-acre Muzi Motors property, buying the Highland Avenue site for an undisclosed price, in a deal brokered by suburban real estate firm 128 CRE. Bulfinch chief executive Eric Schlager said he’ll market the property as a marquee headquarters location for a local company that wants new, more modern digs. In May, Needham town meeting voters approved new zoning that could allow up to 500,000 square feet of development on the Muzi site.
“It’s a headquarters site for any number of leading firms, whether it be office, whether it be life sciences, or whether it be something in-between,” Schlager said. “We’ve always coveted this site. We’ve monitored it quite carefully after the rezoning cemented some of the future options.”
The Muzi dealerships closed last month after eight decades selling cars — most recently Fords and Chevys — in Needham. With them went about 90 jobs, according to a notice on file with the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Fears that the Cammarano family might sell the site intensified in 2018 when patriarch Fred Muzi died. Town officials had long wanted to rezone the property to accommodate more development there but failed to secure enough votes to do so in 2019. Since then, Amazon has launched a wave of new warehouse projects in Boston’s suburbs, which helped prompt another attempt to rezone the Muzi site and WCVB-TV’s studio next door to prevent a warehouse from getting built there. That rezoning attempt was ultimately successful.
Enter Schlager and his family-owned development and property management company. As part of its sprawling Greater Boston portfolio, Bulfinch already owns commercial properties throughout Newton, Needham, and Wellesley, and is perhaps best-known in that area for its conversion of the former Atrium Mall on Route 9 into what is billed as a “wellness and medical destination,” filled with prominent healthcare and fitness tenants.
Schlager likens the Muzi site to office buildings along Route 128 in Waltham, to the north, with anchor tenants such as Thermo Fisher Scientific and Clarks, and company logos visible to commuters on the highway. Aside from its high-profile location, he points to the proximity to commuter rail: The Muzi site is just two-thirds of a mile from the Needham Heights station, the last stop on the Needham line. He hopes to land an anchor tenant but also expects to design a flexible master plan to accommodate multiple users.
“All of that, we think, will ultimately cause one of our region’s leading firms to want to locate to the site,” Schlager said. “We look forward to completing a first-class development that everybody will be really proud of.”
The deal is an exciting opportunity to bring jobs and property taxes to Needham, said Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber. There’s “always some company looking to expand, looking for a marquee spot on the highway,” he said, that could pick the property for a new corporate office. But he suspects the end-use will involve labs — in large part because they are sprouting up all over Greater Boston.
“We know what the demand is for life sciences. If you’re going to bet on it, that’s where you would place your money,” Reibman said. “This couldn’t be a better end result than the caliber of a local landlord who understands our market and has other properties right in the same neighborhood.”