Investment group is front-runner to buy BU Theatre
The drama of the Huntington Theatre Company’s bid to retain its home has reached new levels of intrigue in recent weeks as a little-known investment group has emerged as the front-runner to buy the company’s Huntington Avenue playhouse.
Boston-area developer John Matteson has met quietly with Boston University, which owns the BU Theatre, as well as representatives of the Huntington and the mayor’s office, about acquiring the property.
“We’re in due diligence,” said Matteson, who declined to name members of the investment group. “We’ve had very good conversations with the mayor’s office, BU, and the Huntington.”
Boston University and the Huntington stunned the city’s arts scene last October when they announced they were dissolving their 33-year partnership. While the theater company had initially tried to purchase the BU Theatre and its two adjoining buildings, the university ultimately decided to put the parcel on the open market. Softening the blow, the university stipulated that the eventual buyer must “guarantee the Huntington’s use of the facility through June 30, 2017.’’
“It really was just a question of price,’’ Gary Nicksa, BU’s senior vice president of operations, told the Globe at the time. “We felt it was worth more. We felt the only way to settle that was to market it and see what buyers were willing to offer.’’
At the time, Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington, said the theater company would try to partner with a developer to purchase the property or negotiate a deal with the successful buyer.
“It’s critically important for us to be able to continue our work on Huntington Ave.,” Maso said Friday, while describing his meetings with Matteson. “There’s no more important issue in the arts in Boston at this moment.”
BU retained the real estate firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank to solicit bids for the .76-acre property, and as bidding escalated, some potential investors walked away.
Michael Armini, senior vice president for external affairs at Northeastern University, said the university placed a bid in the second round, but opted to pursue other options.
“Certainly this site was of interest to us, both because of proximity and our desire to work together with the Huntington Theatre Company,” Armini said via e-mail. “Ultimately, though, we didn’t see it as a strategic priority. If it’s strategic, you make the purchase.”
Matteson would not discuss the proposed purchase price of the group he represents or disclose the names of participants in the investment group. He added that documents had yet to be signed.
“It’s way too early for any of that, but there’s been very good and very productive conversations on all sides,” he said Thursday. “The mayor’s office has been great, BU’s been great, and the Huntington Theatre people have been great, so we’re continuing to have those conversations.”
Matteson declined to say whether the potential development plans would include the Huntington.
“We’re so early on in all of this that there’s really no comment,” he said. “Typically it’s 30 days of due diligence and 30 days to close. We’re in about week two of that.”
City Hall has made no secret of its hopes for the development. “We have from the beginning made it clear that the city wants the Huntington to stay where it is,” Laura Oggeri, Mayor Martin Walsh’s chief of communications, said in a statement. “We have asked all partners involved in the sale to explore possibilities.”
Maso said he’s met a “couple times” with Matteson and called the meetings “constructive.”
“We’ve had very productive conversations, and I think both parties are working to find a solution,” he said. “These are the only people we’ve met with. We started this process once they were designated by the university.”
Reached for comment, Colin Riley, BU’s executive director of media relations, said simply: “We don’t wish to comment or speculate about those conversations.”
Matteson, who founded Matteson Companies in 2014, has been quietly active in Boston-area development circles. Though he declined to discuss past projects, news reports indicate that while he was an executive with the Archon Group, a Goldman Sachs company, the firm invested in the Fort Point neighborhood. According to the website for Matteson Companies, it is headquartered in Fort Point.
Maso, who said the Huntington was “actively engaged” with the prospective buyers, said the process was going to take time as each party weighs its needs and options.
“We’re both learning, and now we’re waiting for their team to process this information and come up with a preliminary plan to get us both what we need,” said Maso. “There’s no reason this can’t be resolved in a way that is a win-win for the Huntington, the developers, for BU, and the city at large. This is a solvable problem.”