Boston University has signed an agreement to sell the BU Theatre to an investment group represented by Boston-area developer John Matteson.
The $25 million sale includes the 890-seat playhouse, which the Huntington Theatre Company has called home for more than three decades, along with two adjoining buildings on Huntington Avenue.
Matteson’s group has been actively engaged in discussions with City Hall and the Huntington Theatre Company regarding the future of the property. As part of the sale, BU stipulated that the buyer must continue to allow the Huntington use of the theater rent-free through June 30, 2017.
But the investment group’s ultimate plans for the Huntington Avenue property are not yet clear. Matteson, who could not be reached immediately for comment, told BU Today that he was committed to working with the theater.
“The conversation with the theater group, with assistance from City Hall, is going very well,” he told the publication. “We are fans of the theater. We would like to make sure that we maintain a theater on the Avenue of the Arts, as that part of Huntington Avenue is designated.”
When reached by a reporter Monday afternoon, Michael Maso, managing director for the Huntington Theatre Company, said he was unaware of the sale.
“I guess I’d better make a phone call,” he said.
Reached later in the afternoon, Maso said that he was “pleased that the sale has gone forward, and I share John’s characterization of our talks to date as positive.”
Gary Nicksa, BU’s senior vice president for operations, said proceeds from the sale would go toward the construction of a new university performance center that includes costume and scene shops, as well as a 250-seat theater on Commonwealth Avenue.
“We had our students having to go a mile and a half away, but the rest of our facilities were on Commonwealth Avenue, so this will bring them all together,” said Nicksa, who added that he expected the sale to close in late April or early May.
Nicksa said the new facilities are part of a suite of projects he estimated will cost at least $50 million and are expected to open in the fall of 2017. “We’re still in the early design stages,” he said.
Boston University has allowed the Huntington Theatre Company rent-free use of its space since 1982.
Nicksa previously noted that the university has also donated in excess of $45 million to the Huntington in subsidies and in-kind donations during that time.
That relationship came to an abrupt end last fall, when BU began soliciting bids for the .76-acre property through the real estate firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. Although the Huntington initially attempted to partner with local developers to purchase the theater and adjoining buildings, bidding quickly escalated and other potential bidders fell away.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has made it clear that he wants the Huntington to remain in its current location.
“We have sat with Matteson and expressed the mayor’s continued desire for the Huntington to remain on the site,” said John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development. “Matteson has expressed their willingness to work with the theater to help make that happen.”
Matteson, a relatively quiet figure in Boston-area development, founded Matteson Companies in 2014. News reports indicate that he previously worked as an executive with the Archon Group, a Goldman Sachs company, which invested in the Fort Point area of South Boston.
Speaking Monday, Maso said he was “hopeful” the theater company would reach an agreement with Matteson’s group.
“Our objective all along has been to find a way to keep the Huntington here and to renovate the facilities,” said Maso. “That’s what we’re aiming for in these discussions.”