Mt. Auburn Cemetery is the latest Greater Boston institution seeking to secure its future by cashing in on the region’s hot real estate market.
The historic cemetery is selling about 6 acres it owns in Watertown, a deal that real estate industry experts say could bring $25 million or more to Mt. Auburn’s coffers.
The site is home to a parking lot and a former cement plant on Grove Street, across the street from the cemetery grounds. It’s land Mt. Auburn does not really need, said president David Barnett, but can use to bolster the cemetery’s endowment and fund long-planned improvements to burial services, horticultural space, and greenhouses on the 175-acre complex.
“It seems like the perfect time to capitalize on this,” Barnett said. “Some of it may go to achieve our vision for new facilities. Some of it may go to the endowment.”
From universities to civic organizations, a growing number of nonprofits in and around Boston are selling real estate these days, taking advantage of the booming demand for buildings, and building sites. Among others, YW Boston recently put its historic home in the Back Bay on the market, while Simmons University is planning to lease half of its Fenway campus to a developer, who would help it rebuild the other half.
It Mt. Auburn’s case, the cemetery is selling what is essentially surplus land it has accumulated over the years.
Mt. Auburn has owned most of the site since the 1940s, Barnett said. It was once used for storage, but in recent years part of the property has been leased to nearby Mt. Auburn Hospital for employee parking. The rest is the site of a now-demolished cement plant the cemetery purchased in 2009 for $4.75 million, in part, Barnett said, to prevent it from ever again being used as a cement plant.
To that end, he said, Mt. Auburn will want to make sure that the buyer plans a use that’s “compatible” with the historic cemetery across the street, likely office or lab space, or perhaps housing. Any project would likely need zoning approvals from the town as well.
The City of Watertown’s comprehensive plan calls for commercial development in the area, which today is a mix of small office buildings and older light industrial sites. The Mt. Auburn property for sale sits in the eastern corner of Watertown, near Arsenal Street, which is emerging as a popular destination for life science companies looking to tap the talent of Cambridge-area workers while securing slightly lower rents than those in Kendall Square.
Ben Sayles, a senior director at real estate firm JLL, which is working with Mt. Auburn on the sale, said the site could attract a wide range of developers, and various potential uses. He expects interest will be high.
“It has been exciting to see the east end of Watertown come alive during the past five years,” he said.