The South Boston Waterfront may be the hottest spot on Boston’s commercial real estate scene right now, with employers racing down Seaport Boulevard in the hunt for shiny new office space. But John Fish has decided to buck the trend: He’s not heading to the Seaport, after all.
Suffolk Construction’s chief executive has shelved plans, announced in 2013, to move the company to the corner of Harbor Street and Northern Avenue in the Marine Industrial Park from its longtime digs in Roxbury. Instead, Fish will expand his existing headquarters on Allerton Street.
The move represents a big vote of confidence in Roxbury — and in its Newmarket industrial area, in particular.
Suffolk happens to be Roxbury’s largest for-profit, private employer, with 300 people at the headquarters. The roughly 50,000-square-foot expansion of Suffolk’s 85,000-square-foot headquarters will create room for as many as 170 new workers to join the company over the next decade.
“It’s been our home for almost 25 years,” Fish said. “I want it to be home for the next 50 years.”
Fish said the company spent nearly $600,000 over the past 18 months on engineering and design work to plot a new headquarters in South Boston. “We studied the hell out of it,” Fish said. “At the end of the day, it’s not us. We are a very proud organization, and I think Roxbury is a home we’re very proud of.”
When Fish unveiled the relocation plans in 2013, he was equally emphatic about the Seaport: “This location speaks to where Boston is going, not where it is today,” he said at the time.
Angus Leary, president for Suffolk’s Northeast region, said staffers he talked to indicated they wanted to stay put. Suffolk’s free parking is a nice perk for employees, and the city’s Inspectional Services Department, used as part of the building process, is nearby on Massachusetts Avenue.
Suffolk’s headquarters is also a couple of blocks from the MBTA’s Newmarket Station on the Fairmount commuter rail line.
“This area has grown incredibly in so many great ways,” Leary said. “It has more room to grow and we want to be part of the engine that helps this area grow.”
So Fish and his team ironed out a deal to expand next door. Suffolk’s officials said they signed an agreement last week to use a 99-year-lease to take control of a 56,000-square-foot property owned by Harbour Realty Trust at Magazine and Allerton streets. A small industrial building that houses an auto repair garage will be leveled to make way for Suffolk’s new wing.
“Having a business of that size and jobs like that in that area can only be good [for the neighborhood],” said Tom Goemaat, the chief executive at a rival contractor, Shawmut Design and Construction, which is based about a mile away in the South End. “Any time a big business makes a commitment to an area, it sends a positive message about that area.”
Suffolk moved to Allerton Street in 1988, opening in a three-story building six years after the company was launched. It built a five-story addition in 2000, essentially doubling the size of the complex. The current project will take about three years to complete, including renovations to the existing space, Leary said.
During this time, Fish will need to figure out how to balance overseeing his company’s growth with his position as chairman of the group that’s trying to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston.
A big driver behind Suffolk’s physical expansion dates back to 2009, when Suffolk acquired the rival contractor William A. Berry & Son. Eventually, Suffolk closed that company’s Danvers headquarters and relocated those jobs to Boston.
Few companies have benefited more from Boston’s recent economic boom than Suffolk. Its red-and-blue banners are near-ubiquitous sights among the prominent projects in the city’s downtown and Seaport areas. Suffolk is the state’s biggest general contractor and directly employs roughly 1,400 people nationwide — including about 600 in Boston, at the headquarters and elsewhere.
Fish said the company took in about $2.4 billion in revenue for the 12 months that ended in June.
Roxbury community leaders expressed relief that Suffolk will remain, even as they spoke of wanting to see their neighborhood receive more of a boost from Suffolk’s success. Big on the wish list: local jobs.
“I don’t know the details of Suffolk’s track record, but I believe they are pretty good,” said David Price, executive director of Neustra Comunidad Development Corporation in Roxbury. “There are still lots of folks who are construction workers who need jobs in the neighborhood. We hope Suffolk and other contractors can do a better job hiring these folks.”
For Price, Suffolk’s decision to remain where it is sends a strong signal about the increased value of the area’s industrial real estate.
“It says that Newmarket is still a desirable place for businesses and probably becoming more desirable,” Price said. “Five or 10 years ago, there was a lot of old vacant stock in Newmarket. Bit by bit, it’s been bought up and occupied.”