Volpe center project draws big-name developers
A who’s who of major real estate developers are lining up for one of the biggest development opportunities in Greater Boston.
At least eight companies responded by Monday’s deadline to the federal government’s initial request to redevelop the Volpe transportation center in Kendall Square. Bidders range from biotech real estate giants to well-connected Boston developers to national players with deep pockets.
The heavy interest highlights the potential of the Volpe site, 14 acres in the heart of red-hot Kendall Square, where housing is in short supply and office rents are among the highest on the East Coast.
The General Services Administration is seeking a developer to build a new transportation research facility, in exchange for the right to build on the rest of the property. The agency expects to pick a developer by January 2017.
Citing the competitive nature of its bidding process, the GSA refused to release a list of companies that responded to its request for qualifications — a first step in the bidding process. But Cambridge officials said they had separately met with representatives of 13 real estate companies interested in redeveloping Volpe; eight of those confirmed they had responded to the GSA request, and the other companies did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
The confirmed bidders include construction heavyweights Lend-Lease and Skanska USA; a partnership between BioMed and Longfellow Real Estate Partners, both of which have developed many properties in Kendall; the development arm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; HYM Investments, whose principal Tom O’Brien is a former head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority; Oxford Properties, which has made several major office-building purchases in Boston in recent years; the housing and office developer Related Beal; and Peebles Corp., a New York firm that has made big inroads in Boston recently.
Other companies that met with Cambridge officials include Boston Properties and Alexandria Real Estate Equities, each of which have large holdings in Kendall; Trammell Crow; Lincoln Property Group; office developer John Buck Co. of Chicago; and Hunt Co., a Texas firm that develops mixed-use properties.
The GSA had requested that each company submit details about its team, experience with large developments, and ability to finance a project of at least $500 million.
The next step involves a rezoning of the property later this year by Cambridge that could result in 40 percent of the site being set aside for housing and another portion for open space and retail; it may even allow for the construction of a tower the likes of which Cambridge has not seen. Once the rezoning is complete, the GSA is expected to request specific proposals.
In meetings with the potential developers, Iram Farooq, Cambridge’s acting assistant city manager for community development, said she likes what she’s been hearing so far.
“People seemed to be comfortable with our goals for the site,” she said. “They all talked about being interested in mixed-use, urban development. It’s such a central spot.”
And Alexandra Lee, executive director of the Kendall Square Association, which represents businesses in the area, said the Volpe project could bring “additional vitality” to the neighborhood and “put us further down the path of developing a world-renowned live, work, play environment.”
Few of the would-be bidders would discuss the project Tuesday, citing the ongoing competition. But Bill Kane, senior vice president for leasing and development at BioMed, which owns eight buildings in Kendall Square, said the Volpe project could cap an extraordinary remake of the area.
“It’s offering the community an opportunity to establish one essential place they can call the center of Kendall,” he said.