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Details of Flower Exchange sale remain under wraps

The 5.6-acre floral wholesale warehouse on Albany Street in the South End sits squarely on one of the hottest corners of Boston’s real estate market.
The 5.6-acre floral wholesale warehouse on Albany Street in the South End sits squarely on one of the hottest corners of Boston’s real estate market. JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

Who’s buying the Flower Exchange?

The answer appears to be a rarity in Boston real estate circles: It’s a well-kept secret.

The 5.6-acre floral wholesale warehouse on Albany Street in the South End sits squarely on one of the hottest corners of Boston’s red-hot real estate market.

When shareholders in the century-old cooperative put the place up for sale last spring, they got at least five offers, including several from big-name Boston developers, starting at $35 million.

By midsummer, a preliminary deal was in place, according to several watchful neighbors and losing bidders, at a price north of $40 million. That would be a huge sum for a few acres of land. But no one seemed to know who was buying.

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And since then? Silence.

Vendors at the exchange, neighbors, rival developers, and real estate brokers — about 20 people queried by the Globe in recent weeks — all say they are in the dark.

“I’m digging into it myself,” said Bill Jacobson, who owns Jacobson Floral Supply next door. “I haven’t heard anything new in months.”

Brokers love to blab ahead of deals they’ve got in the works. But not this time. The Flower Exchange board is handling the sale in-house. No leaks there.

Developers often will dish on their rivals. Not here though. While a few big names privately acknowledge they lost the bidding war, they’ve no idea who won.

City officials are often in the know, but they say they’ve heard little.

And neighborhood groups are legendarily nosy. Yet on this they’ve got nothing.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Steve Fox, chair of the South End Forum, an umbrella group of local neighborhood associations. “If you hear something, let me know.”

 David Brown and his wife, Ann, worked inside the Boston Flower Exchange. The exchange has been sold, but no one will say to whom.
David Brown and his wife, Ann, worked inside the Boston Flower Exchange. The exchange has been sold, but no one will say to whom. JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

In the absence of real news, rumors abound.

There’s chatter that Patriots owner Bob Kraft is buying the site, as parking for a new soccer stadium for his New England Revolution in nearby Widett Circle. But those stadium plans are vague at best, and $40 million for a parking lot seems steep even for a billionaire. A Kraft spokesman had no comment Monday. But that’s not unusual.

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Others whisper “the Chinese” are backing a buyer, whatever that might mean. One person pointed to Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Lab next door, and wondered about an expansion. There’s speculation about a supermarket, or yet another of the big apartment blocks that are sprouting through the South End like sunflowers.

“It’s certainly a topic of interest,” said Bill Gause, director of acquisitions at Leggat McCall, which last week rolled out plans for 700 apartments of its own across Albany Street from the Flower Exchange. “But we haven’t heard anything.”

Then there are the vendors and wholesalers who work in the building. The sale came up at the Exchange’s annual shareholders’ meeting last month, but only for a brief update that an agreement had been reached and the unnamed buyer was performing due diligence.

“They’re being very quiet about it,” longtime wholesaler Gerry Cupp said. “I don’t blame them. It’s not a done deal yet.”

Cupp and others say they’d love an answer. After all, their businesses will probably need to move. Anyone paying $40 million or more likely has bigger plans for the place than a low-slung floral warehouse.

“Nobody quite knows what their future’s going to be,” Cupp said.

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Indeed, there’s just one person who knows for sure what’s going on. Joe Cefalo, an attorney who sits on the Flower Exchange board and is handling the sale. His lips are sealed.

“I really can’t tell you anything about anything” until the agreement is final, Cefalo said Monday. “Everybody’s sworn to secrecy.”


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.