Three years after it abruptly surfaced as Boston’s next big development hot spot, a key piece of Widett Circle is on the market.
The New Boston Food Market this week will put nearly 20 acres sandwiched between South Boston and the South End up for sale, kicking off what real estate analysts expect will be a fierce bidding war for a prime piece of land near downtown.
Bound by busy roads and rail lines, Widett Circle has been home to two dozen meat and seafood wholesalers for nearly a half-century but had been largely overlooked within Boston’s real estate world until emerging as the centerpiece location of Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid. With the Olympics failure, the property has surged to the top of the development agenda in a city desperate for places to grow.
After monitoring market conditions and consulting with city officials, the New Boston Food Market — a co-op of the food vendors that owns several large warehouses there — is ready to sell and move on, said Michael Joyce, whose real estate firm, Transwestern, is listing the property along with brokerage HFF.
“There’s been a lot of interest from developers. They’ve heard that,” Joyce said. “I think they’re at a point right now where they want to see if it’s enough for them to relocate.”
If they sell, the wholesalers will likely split up, Joyce said, with some already planning to move to Boston’s Seaport District, others eyeing the Newmarket food district or distribution hubs in Everett, Chelsea, or other nearby cities. Eager to keep the roughly 900 jobs in Boston, city officials have been working to help the wholesalers find new space nearby.
The future of Widett Circle will likely follow that of other old industrial districts that have been transformed into gleaming campuses of office space and housing, including Assembly Row in Somerville, Boston Landing in Brighton, and NorthPoint in East Cambridge.
Real estate analysts say Widett Circle has as much potential as any of those places. It is just 1 mile south of downtown, between two of Boston’s hottest neighborhoods, with good access to transit and the Southeast Expressway. Add in adjacent parcels owned by the city, and a development there could span nearly 50 acres.
“You can create a city unto itself there,” Joyce said.
Still, Widett has challenges, too. Bound by a highway on one side and a busy rail yard on the other, getting into and out of the property is not easy. And much of the area could be prone to flooding from rising sea levels. Any redevelopment would likely need major infrastructure upgrades, Joyce acknowledged, and a new buyer would likely need to rezone the site, which could take months or more.
City officials targeted Widett Circle for large-scale development and related investments in their recent Imagine Boston 2030 plan. Joyce and Ben Sayles, a director at HFF, expect bids from major local and national developers eager to build something big there.
“This is about the future,” Sayles said. “This is one of those pockets that can handle the growth Boston needs to keep on this great trajectory.”
How much the site might fetch for it is hard to guess, Sayles said. Just across the Southeast Expressway from Widett, the 5.6-acre site of the Boston Flower Exchange sparked a bidding war in 2015 that sources say topped $40 million, though no specific price has been revealed. Larger — and already-permitted — sites such as 12 acres of Seaport Square and a 42-acre section of NorthPoint in East Cambridge sold for $359 million and $291 million, respectively.
The price for Widett will become clear in the coming weeks, as Joyce and Sayles start marketing the property. They hope to have a buyer lined up by early next year. Then, they said, the food vendors will decide whether to sell and move.Tim Logan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.