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Vaccination Sites Providing Small Respite For Struggling Properties

Hotel and retail owners are pinning their recovery hopes on the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, but a select few have been able to participate in their own potential salvation.

While most vaccinations in Massachusetts are happening at pharmacies, grocery stores and high schools, the state has designated six properties as mass vaccination sites: Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, two malls, a hotel and a vacant Circuit City.

The Natick Mall in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has contracted with Curative to roll out its vaccination site program, and the company signed a lease at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield for 62K SF at a vacant Macy’s, representing the state’s only mass vaccination site in Western Massachusetts. The mall was the first large retail location to be designated by Gov. Charlie Baker, and is operating today despite early hiccups in setting up queues.

“Eastfield saw a loss of anchor tenants before the pandemic hit,” said Chuck Breidenbach, managing director at New Jersey-based Mountain Development Corp., which owns Eastfield. “We’ve been working and trying to reposition and redevelop it. But this is a good time to be a good corporate citizen.”

Macy’s first floor, dark since 2016, now shuffles vaccine recipients in and out. Curative has the option to activate the building’s second floor, which could bring its footprint to 125K SF, Breidenbach said. 

He declined to disclose terms of the lease — the property owners of vaccination sites are signing deals with the private operators, rather than the state. Curative didn't respond to multiple requests for comment this week.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore in Danvers.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Boston North Shore is the region’s largest vaccination site and the busiest outside of the professional sports venues. Curative has taken up 10K SF at the hotel’s ballroom in a temporary lease, bringing some much-needed activity to the hotel not immune to the pandemic’s hit to hospitality, General Manager Kevin Varr said.

“The room every night needs to be cleaned and sanitized, we have team members that are able to assist with that,” Varr said, noting at least three staffers have been brought back to full-time work. “We’re also providing the afternoon meal service for the team at Curative. We’re basically their cafeteria, we’ve been able to bring people back into the kitchen to help with that.”

The 363-room hotel features 33K SF of meeting space and an attached waterpark, which have gone dark since the pandemic began, but Curative may get comfortable with a lease extending through April with the possibility for an extension.

“Now that we’re doing this, there are a lot of other hotels out there that are inquiring with us, asking us about how we got this opportunity, how they can do it,” Varr said. “I think you’ll see more of it.”

California-based Curative runs testing and mass vaccination sites across the country, and has recently come under scrutiny by state lawmakers for a troubled vaccination rollout. The state’s vaccination reservation website crashed Thursday morning as appointments opened up for those 65 years old and up after previously being limited to seniors at least 75 years old. 

The state legislature has ordered an oversight hearing over Baker’s vaccination rollout troubled by a lack of supply and logistics issues. A New York Times tracker shows Massachusetts in the upper echelon of vaccination rollout efficiency.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker

Third party LabCorp plans to open a MetroWest vaccination site at the Natick Mall next week, where it expects to vaccinate 500 people a day with hopes to increase the number to 3,000 daily. Brookfield Properties, which owns the mall, said in a statement it “proactively donated” its space to the state, but few details from the companies and the state have been released regarding the upcoming space.

A sixth mass vaccination site is expected to open next week in Southern Massachusetts at a vacant Circuit City in a Dartmouth shopping center, occupying the big-box store that shut down in 2009. The site, which city officials vied to fill pre-pandemic, is operated by Georgia-based Pegasus Landing Corp., which didn't respond to requests for comment.

Massachusetts hasn’t formally disclosed its contracts with Curative and LabCorp to run vaccination sites, and property representatives insisted the contracts were private deals with the companies rather than directly with Massachusetts. Curative has received contracts exceeding $40M in Texas and from the Department of Defense to provide hundreds of thousands of tests.

Other mass vaccination sites have entered different arrangements; Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium sites are organized by Kendall Square coworking space CIC, an unlikely vaccination manager. TripAdvisor's headquarters in Needham briefly hosted vaccine operations run by Mass General Brigham, offering its space for free, but was temporarily closed over logistics issues.

The retail offerings join a trend of states utilizing quiet commercial spaces for coronavirus pandemic operations, as Loudoun County, Virginia, is paying the operator of a shuttered Nordstrom $2M for an eight-month lease. As stateside malls and hotels still feel the pain of the pandemic’s economic hit, the vaccination operations are a small respite for both employees and operators. 

“Us being able to provide the space for the community to get their vaccines, it’s I think a win for our industry,” Varr said. “The sooner we can get back, we hope once it’s safe to do so, we’ll be able to host their families for their weddings and other celebrations."