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South Boston Positions Itself To Be Another Kendall Square Relief Valve

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Developers are circling South Boston to be Boston’s next life science hub, and the historically Irish, and often isolated, enclave is mostly opening its arms. 

South Boston Positions Itself To Be Another Kendall Square Relief Valve
A Red Line train at Broadway Station, a 10-minute ride from Kendall Square.

“I don’t think there’s been any opposition to it coming since Gillette has been such a presence in that stretch of South Boston for a long time,” South Boston Neighborhood Development Corp. Executive Director Donna Brown said. “They have been practicing research and development and manufacturing in this community for generations, and South Boston has been open to that.”

Kendall Square is Greater Boston’s life science hub, but so-called relief valve submarkets have emerged in the Seaport, West Cambridge, Watertown and Allston/Brighton. The Seaport, a part of South Boston, has attracted a bulk of the area's life science activity to date with companies like Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and, as Bisnow previously reported, Foundation Medicine. 

But developers like Related Beal and Alexandria Real Estate Equities are making moves closer to the Broadway MBTA station, an area in the past known more for Whitey Bulger and organized crime clustering around the Triple O’s Lounge than a biotechnology cluster churning out the next global breakthrough.

While the neighborhood has traded in mobsters for pricey residential developments, developers are now hoping to add labs near West Broadway and along Fort Point Channel

“If you look at West Broadway, it makes sense. It has the infrastructure and amenities — what it has lacked is [life science landlord] sponsorship,” CBRE Vice President Alex Plaisted said. “With that changing, it’s a great market for tenants to grow and make that move.”

South Boston Positions Itself To Be Another Kendall Square Relief Valve
Rendering of 99 A St.

The 2.7-acre Fort Point Channel property originally slated for a 300K SF, 12-story tower for General Electric is getting pitched for its life science potential now that GE has scuttled that part of its Boston headquarters.

Next door, Related Beal is reportedly close to sealing a more than $200M deal to take 6.5 acres of the Gillette World Shaving Headquarters property, and many in Boston real estate circles expect a life science component to any future development. 

Alexandria is partnering with Anchor Line Partners on a planned 210K SF lab building at 99 A St. Those Bisnow interviewed for this story expect even further activity in the life science sector in this stretch of Southie, especially given its room for developers to scale up and its location on the Red Line, which offers a direct transit path to Kendall Square

“The immediate area around the Broadway train station, to the south Dorchester Avenue Corridor and to the east, Channel Center, has had a long history of commercial and corporate uses such as Gillette and other industrial uses,” Boston Realty Advisors founder and principal Jason Weissman said. “The fact that this immediate area expands with jobs of the future is highly logical and becoming of the neighborhood.”

South Boston residents recognize their neighborhood is positioned to capture companies that have grown out, or been priced out, of Kendall Square. South Boston’s Broadway MBTA station is on the so-called Red Line “brain train” and only a five-stop, 12-minute ride from Kendall. 

Although open to more commercial development and density, the West Broadway Neighborhood Association has concerns Alexandria’s project is too big in relation to nearby residential buildings. 

“Given our location, we don’t have a problem with commercial development per se,” West Broadway Neighborhood Association co-Chair Derek Pajaczkowski said. “What we do have a problem with is developers coming in and proposing projects that seem kind of out of scale. The site Related Beal has is quite different than what Alexandria has.”

The 133-foot Alexandria proposal is closer to shorter residential development in Southie compared to the Related site, which is in more of an established commercial zone next to Gillette and Fort Point warehouses. Alexandria has met with the WBNA multiple times since November, but the firm has yet to show if it is going to make any changes to the building design, Pajaczkowski said. 

“They’re locating their project on a seam of commercial fabric and residential fabric,” he said. “They have to do a good job on that relationship or else it won’t be a good building, and they won’t be a good neighbor.”

Alexandria declined to comment for this story. 

South Boston Positions Itself To Be Another Kendall Square Relief Valve
The now-canceled GE tower was featured in a recent Boston climate study and had been marketed for its life science potential.

While there might be some size concerns, everyone Bisnow spoke to for this story recognized the commercial push into South Boston is inevitable. 

Taller buildings like a 14-story Cambria Hotel are going up next to Broadway station and changing neighbor acceptance for how tall buildings should be in the area. More restaurants are opening, and the amenities, housing stock and direct transit access are exactly what life science companies cite when they look to make moves to developments elsewhere — like Boston Landing and Assembly Row.

The biggest challenge is finding a gateway tenant to make the move to the area akin to Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Seaport move in 2014, which boosted that area’s life science reputation. 

“Some smaller biotechs don’t want to be the first guy to move to a new area. They want to be second or third,” Plaisted said. “The first couple of deals will be the toughest for any life science developer, but once the ball gets rolling, it will be much more widely accepted.”