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Conversion Of Sears At Cambridge Mall Lands 150K SF Lab Lease

Growing life sciences company Prime Medicine has signed on to anchor the conversion of a department store building in East Cambridge, another expansion in greater Boston's booming lab market. 

The former Sears building at 60 First St. in Cambridge.

Prime Medicine last month signed a lease for 149K SF at 60 First St., the former Sears portion of the CambridgeSide mall that Anchor Line Partners and Northwood Investors are converting to lab space, Bisnow has learned. 

CBRE revealed the lease in its Q4 Boston Metro Lab market report, and a CBRE spokesperson confirmed that the firm brokered the deal. CBRE's Chuck Kavoogian and Greg Lucas represented the landlord, while CBRE's Jon Varholak, Eric Smith and McKenna Teague represented the tenant, the spokesperson said. 

The Sears department store at the intersection of First and Thorndike streets shuttered in late 2018 after nearly 30 years in operation, part of a larger wave of closings for the struggling retail chain. Most of the mall remains open, but its owner, New England Development, filed an application with Cambridge in August 2020 that called for redeveloping several buildings along the mall's perimeter, including the Sears, Macy's, Best Buy and a parking garage. 

The redevelopment overall would add 875K SF of new commercial space, according to the filing, three-quarters of which would be lab space, with the rest as office. The property would also see the addition of 200 apartments on the site of the garage.

The plans for the Sears building called for renovating the existing three stories and adding two more floors, according to the application. The five-story, 85-foot-tall building is envisioned for office or lab space, plus ground-floor retail and a new walkway connecting to the mall's food court. 

The application mentioned Boston-based Anchor Line Partners as one of the owners involved in the redevelopment, and the website for the 60 First St. project lists Anchor Line and Northwood Investors as the companies behind the Sears conversion. Cambridge property records show an affiliate of Northwood Investors acquired the department store property from Sears in 2017 for $55M.

The conversion project is expected to deliver in early 2023, according to the project website. It says the five-story building will have Class-A lab/office space with floor plates between 45K SF and 49K SF, and the floors will have ceiling heights between 15 and 18 feet. Anchor Line officials declined to comment on the deal.

The development team filed revised designs for the Sears conversion in March 2021, and Cambridge approved the permit the following month. 

A rendering of the converted Sears building at 60 First St.

Prime Medicine's deal to fill more than half of the building comes after the startup launched publicly in July with $315M in funding, a combination of a $115M Series A round and a $200M Series B round. The Boston Globe reported that the startup had been operating quietly for the prior two years after developing Prime Editing, a new approach to gene editing that could help treat genetic diseases.

The startup was founded by David Liu, a researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and its CEO is Keith Gottesdiener, who previously spent nine years leading Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals.

"We are operating from a position of financial strength, and look forward to further developing the technology and progressing our preclinical programs toward the clinic, with the hope that they may cure or halt the progression of genetic diseases for patients," Gottesdiener said in a July release.

Prime Medicine is currently spread across three facilities in Cambridge at 21 Erie St., 64 Sidney St. and 38 Sidney St., according to the CBRE spokesperson. The spokesperson said the Erie Street facility is part of a SmartLabs flexible lab space, and the two Sidney Street facilities combine to total 35K SF.

That means a large portion of the growing company's 149K SF lease represents net new demand for the region's booming lab market. 

CBRE's report included the deal as part of a record 2.4M SF of leasing velocity that occurred in the Boston area last quarter. The Cambridge market has a 0.5% vacancy rate in its 17.1M SF of inventory, according to CBRE, and it recorded 748K SF of positive net absorption last quarter.