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These Are The Boston Market's Largest Office-To-Lab Conversions

The Boston market includes millions of SF in office-to-lab conversions, and tracking them is almost as tricky as the construction process itself.

Developers answering the life sciences market’s call for more space have spent billions since the onset of the pandemic on what they believe to be underutilized office assets, identifying clear heights, floor plates and other building bones amenable to lab use.

“I think a lot of times when people think of a lab property, they think that every SF of the building is used for people in white coats and bubbling ethers of life sciences experiments,” Colliers Research Director Jeffrey Myers said. “That’s not how it works. Even in a full lab conversion, you’re still likely to have office usage.”

Fewer permitting hurdles and ground-up construction costs equal faster delivery, and developers have put value in the opportunity cost in speed to market, Myers said. 

Today, the Boston market counts approximately 3M SF in office-to-lab conversions, according to Colliers research. Some of the projects are newly acquired office assets that have yet to be converted, while others were pivoted in the planning process to include lab space and have yet to break ground. Bisnow looked at the market’s largest office-to-lab conversions already underway, according to developers who have filed public documents detailing the conversion plans.

601 Congress St.

601 Congress St. in Boston's Seaport neighborhood

Location: Seaport

Size: 470K SF

Developer: BioMed Realty

The Blackstone subsidiary is undertaking the largest conversion of a full-office asset in Boston at the former John Hancock Life Insurance Cos. building. BioMed assumed the 95-year land lease from the Massachusetts Port Authority earlier this year for $362M. The property had been vacant since John Hancock moved its headquarters in 2018 to the Back Bay.

BioMed Realty will renovate the building’s HVAC systems and attempt to minimize the visibility of new rooftop mechanicals atop the 14-story building, according to a June presentation filed with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The project, scheduled to be completed in late 2022, will include “dry research” activity and will be limited to Biosafety Levels 1 and 2, the most common levels of research among Boston-area labs, which won’t include microbes of potentially fatal diseases like Covid-19.

One Charles Park and One Rogers Street

One Charles Park in East Cambridge

Location: Cambridge

Size: 400K SF

Developer: Alexandria Real Estate Equities with The Davis Cos.

One of the nation’s most prominent lab developers and one of Boston’s biggest local commercial real estate players plan redevelopment of two adjacent East Cambridge offices, with at least one tenant already pledging to move in next December. Alexandria entered an agreement in June to buy the properties for $815M just six months after The Davis Cos. and Principal Global Investors paid $468M for the same assets. 

Alexandria also plans to pursue additional entitlement opportunities at the two-building site, it said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this month. The properties are part of Alexandria’s megacampus strategy, as the developer already owns and is developing significant assets within a 1-mile walk from Kendall Square. The REIT has already secured an 89K SF lease from Omega Therapeutics, a publicly traded biotech researching mRNA-oriented medicines, which will pay $115 per SF in its first year of a 15-year term.

321 Harrison Ave.

BioMed Realty's office-to-lab conversion project at 321 Harrison Ave., shown under construction in Boston's South End in a June Boston Planning and Development Agency presentation.

Location: South End

Size: 222K SF

Developer: BioMed Realty

BioMed was busy in the first half of 2021, paying $314M for 1000 Washington St. and the adjacent 321 Harrison St. office construction project by developers Nordblom and CIM. The new owner has focused redevelopment efforts away from the 11-story 1000 Washington St. and to 321 Harrison St., which at the time of purchase was a planned eight-story office building atop a parking garage. 

Changes to the rising building’s design were minimal, but BioMed Realty had to install more robust mechanical systems and loading facilities, including new freight elevators, it said in a February notice of project change filed with the BPDA. Boston-based biotechnology firm Monte Rosa Therapeutics earlier this month committed to a 10-year, 63K SF lease at the building, one of the first large leases at an office-to-lab conversion in Boston.

One Kenmore Square

A rendering of Related Beal's One Kenmore Square project from a December 2020 Boston Planning and Development Agency presentation.

Location: Fenway

Size: 198K SF

Developer: Related Beal

Related pivoted office plans last year for The Beacon Building, part of its redevelopment of adjacent former Boston University-owned buildings in Kenmore Square, near Fenway Park. The developer bought the properties from BU for $140M in 2016 and kept office space at the redeveloped 127K SF Commonwealth Building, signing wearable health technology firm Whoop earlier this year to a near-full-building lease.

California biotech Gristone bio will lease 75K SF at the Beacon Building, announcing the project’s first lab deal nine months after Related’s pivot. The switch to life sciences isn’t Related’s first such move: It converted the Seaport’s 451 D St. into a 486K SF life sciences and office building in 2018 in one of the market’s earliest and largest office-to-lab plays. 

745 Atlantic Ave.

745 Atlantic Ave. in Boston near South Station

Location: Leather District

Size: 155K SF

Developer: Oxford Properties Group

International real estate investor Oxford Properties in August announced its intent to convert the office building, formerly home to a WeWork, into a life sciences building in what it called a future-proofing of the asset for the next 50 years at a November BPDA presentation.

Oxford in May sued the coworking giant for $1.8M in unpaid rent for allegedly vacating its 131K SF space in February. That case remains open, but Oxford is moving forward with plans to renovate the 33-year-old building into life sciences and office assets by upgrading the building’s MEP systems and other changes to bring it in line with Oxford’s own sustainability requirements. The developer won’t have to seek a rezoning in the Leather District neighborhood near South Station and won’t change the building shell or loading dock, it said. 

51 Melcher St.

51 Melcher St. in Boston's Seaport, as shown in a December 2021 Boston Planning and Development filing by GI Partners.

Location: Seaport

Size: 97K SF

Developer: GI Partners

The most recent life sciences conversion announcement comes in the Seaport at a 105-year-old building, which GI Partners purchased for $74.6M over the summer from Zurich Alternative Asset Management. The national investment firm won’t expand the building envelope but plans the usual loading dock and mechanical upgrades for the conversion, according to a December BPDA filing. GI Partners plans to divide the nine-story building into 57K SF of lab space and 40K SF of office space.

275 Grove St.

275 Grove St. in Newton

Location: Newton

Size: 63K SF

Developer: Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Alexandria bought the 500K SF Riverside Center office building in the MetroWest suburb from Hines Global REIT in 2020 for $235M and secured a rare lab project approval from the Newton City Council in March. Waltham-based Corindus, a Siemens company producing medical robotics, will occupy the life sciences build-out. The development is among the larger office-to-lab conversions in Boston’s suburbs and sparked momentum in the bedroom community for further life sciences projects.