Billionaire investor Gerald Chan scooped up another slice of Savin Hill Monday, closing on a deal to buy a 4.7-acre site steps from the Red Line station.
An arm of Chan's Morningside Group paid $17 million to buy the Spire Printing and Packaging facility on Bay Street, a two-story building and parking lot in an industrial pocket between Dorchester Avenue and the Southeast Expressway.
It's the third large parcel that Chan — a major property owner in Harvard Square — has purchased in the Dorchester neighborhood, which is seeing a wave of new investment as developers seek transit-friendly sites beyond the pricey core of downtown Boston. Two years ago, he paid $5.25 million for the 2-acre Russell Engineering site on Dewar Street, and he is poised to become a major investor in Dot Block, a 362-unit apartment complex set to break ground later this year at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Hancock Street.
The Bay Street site checks many of the boxes that Chan and other investors say they're looking for in outlying neighborhoods. At nearly 5 acres, it's big enough to build substantial housing or office space, and it sits across the street from the rear entrance to the Savin Hill Red Line station. Meanwhile, the Boston Planning & Development Agency is launching an effort to rezone the area in a way that will likely allow more large-scale housing close to transit.
A Chan spokeswoman wouldn't share details of their development plan, but pointed to the rezoning as a big opportunity for the site.
"The city of Boston has been focusing its planning efforts around the Dorchester Avenue corridor to encourage transit-oriented development, which makes sense," said Paula Turnbull, in a statement. "The Red Line is an important economic development asset for residents and the city."
For the time being, at least, Spire will continue to occupy the building as a tenant. The printing company paid $7.1 million in 2013 to buy it from Dorchester Bay Economic Development Council.
Chan is not the only developer interested in Dorchester Avenue these days. Earlier this month, a quarter-acre site across Hancock Street from Dot Block sold for $2.8 million. A new 14-unit luxury apartment building is set to open this fall along Savin Hill Avenue, and hammers bang as the neighborhood's close-packed three-deckers are rehabbed.
The low-profile billionaire, though, operates at a different scale than most. Along with his brother Ronnie, Chan ranks among the wealthiest men in his native Hong Kong and owns a big portfolio of real estate there and on mainland China. For decades, he's been based in Newton, running Morningside Investment, his venture capital and private equity firm. In 2014, the Chans gave $350 million to Harvard University's School of Public Health — his alma mater — and the school was renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for his father.
In recent years, Chan has delved into real estate, buying at least $120 million worth of apartment buildings and storefronts in and around Harvard Square. Lately he has come under fire from the Cambridge City Council, for letting the Harvard Square Theater, which he bought in 2015, sit empty. Turnbull has said a redevelopment plan is coming soon.
In Dorchester, Chan is entering a less-developed market than Harvard Square, and it's not entirely clear what his intentions are. He has filed no plans with the BPDA for any of his sites yet, and neither city officials nor neighborhood groups have heard much yet from his organization.
But longtime Savin Hill residents know their patch of Dorchester is fast becoming a hot spot for development.
Between potential projects along Morrissey Boulevard to the north, and Dorchester Avenue to the south, there is a lot coming, said Paul Nutting, who has long been active in the neighborhood. Chan, and any other big landowners, would be wise to include residents in their planning from the start.
"You're better off to engage people early on and try to assuage their concerns, rather than dropping some big thing in their lap," he said. "I would hope that Mr. Chan would make his intentions known."