Real estate mogul Gerald Chan buys into Dorchester

Prime site ripe for development sells for $5.25m

Businessman and investor Gerald Chan bought property at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Dewar Street for $5.25 million last week.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Businessman and investor Gerald Chan bought property at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Dewar Street for $5.25 million last week.

Gerald Chan, the billionaire businessman who bought a $120 million chunk of Harvard Square, has expanded his local real estate empire to Dorchester by purchasing an industrial property with big redevelopment potential.

A business entity owned by Chan bought the Russell Engineering site off Dorchester Avenue in Savin Hill for $5.25 million last week, according to public records.

The two-acre property could host a new cluster of homes and retail stores, or a range of other commercial uses.


The transaction is the latest high-profile real estate investment along the MBTA’s Red Line in Dorchester, where developers are building hundreds of homes and retail shops near Ashmont Station, Savin Hill, the JFK/UMass Red Line Station, and the South Bay Shopping Center.

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The site purchased by Chan, at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Dewar Street, is close to the Red Line’s Savin Hill Station and is nearly adjacent to DotBlock, a planned development that would add 360 homes and stores to the area.

Chan, whose family owns a booming real estate business in Hong Kong, could not be reached for comment about his plans in Dorchester. So far, his company has not made radical changes to his properties in Harvard Square, other than raising rents and bringing in some new tenants.

But the Dorchester property presents an opportunity to make a major impact in the neighborhood. The site, with frontage on Dorchester Avenue, is occupied by three single-story industrial buildings. Its current tenant, Russell Engineering, will leave by mid-2016.

A brochure used to sell the property noted that its proximity to the Red Line makes it an attractive place to build commercial space as well as housing and retail shops, which are in high demand in the Boston area.


“People want to be closer to the city and along transit, and they’re taking a much closer look at these neighborhoods,” said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate association. “And [Chan] is coming in with golden credentials. If you’re City Hall, you’re not sitting there wondering if he has the capability to do this.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who lives in Dorchester, has encouraged developers to build moderately priced housing in the area to help retain workers and make the city more affordable for middle-income households.

A spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority said Chan has not contacted it about his intentions for the property.

City Councilor Frank Baker, who represents the district that includes the site, said he spoke with Chan while he was bidding for the property. Baker said he is hopeful Chan will bring jobs and amenities to the area.

“If he was able to add lab or high-tech space, we can add some jobs to attach to the housing and other amenities coming to the neighborhood,” Baker said.


“It’s great for Dorchester,” Baker said of the recent spate of real estate investments. “We’re looking at increasing our density quite a bit, so hopefully with that comes the coffee shops, restaurants, and other things that make complete neighborhoods.”

Chan owns Morningside Group, a private equity and venture capital investment firm that funds a range of businesses in industries, including biotechnology, clean energy, and digital media.

Despite his wealth and far-reaching business interests, Chan is known for keeping a low profile. His family recently gave $350 million to Harvard University, the biggest gift in the school’s history, and has quietly bought several buildings around its campus.

Changes at the Harvard Square properties have been slow to develop, although a couple of new restaurants have opened, including Night Market, operated by Chan’s son. In a recent interview, Chan described his interest in real estate as purely transactional.

“You buy it, you rent it, you put it out of your mind,” he said.

It is unclear whether he will adopt a different approach in Dorchester, where development has become an important part of real estate activity.

Across the street from Chan’s site at DotBlock, Atlas Investment Group is planning to build up to a dozen small buildings with apartments and condominiums and 60,000 square feet of retail space. Another company is building 275 apartments next to the JFK/UMass Station, and the owner of the South Bay shopping center is plotting a major expansion, with up to 500 residences, a movie theater, additional stores, and a hotel.