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Lightstone Gets Ready To Accelerate Into Life Sciences With New Sector Leader

Expansion hasn’t been the dominant story in lab real estate this year, but it is the animating force behind New York-based Lightstone’s decision to hire Chris Maciejczak.

A 20-year industry vet and former Boston Properties and JLL executive, Maciejczak has extensive industry and operations experience and told Bisnow he seeks to expand the firm’s small life sciences portfolio. Right now, it includes five suburban Boston properties, four in a cluster in west suburban Framingham and 690 Canton St. in Westwood, a spec building set to open in a few months.

According to Maciejczak, the real play today, especially for cost-constrained startups seeking space, is value, and that is found in the suburbs. Quality, he said, is still paramount, but companies can’t pay $140-per-SF-triple-net Cambridge rents for science that can be done just as well in Framingham. 

“There's still VC money out there. They're still spinning out companies. They just don't have that extra capital anymore to go out and spend a ton on their real estate,” Maciejczak said. “Because of that, they’ve been sitting in those incubators a lot longer than we've seen in the past. And so when they finally come out, they need to get into space quickly.”

He spoke to Bisnow about his vision for the firm and his perspective on the state of lab development and life sciences, as well as how the firm’s moves in Boston could be mimicked in markets across the country. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lightstone’s new life sciences real estate leader, Chris Maciejczak, says he sees a value strategy paying off in 2024.

Bisnow: You're saying that hitting people at the right price point is what really matters right now. And you're able to do that because you’re concentrating in specific markets.

Chris Maciejczak: Absolutely. When I say spec build, we're looking to convert existing assets that really fit what we know. Most firms are research and development companies doing biology work. They all have little tweaks, but it's pretty small, maybe changing 5% of what you build. Even 10 years ago, it was really hard to build before having a tenant in hand, because they were going to want to change half of your design.

Bisnow: If you're building for this moment and the financial realities that are driving a lot of these companies, how are these suites and spaces different than they would have been five years ago?

Maciejczak: We’ve seen the lab-to-office ratios shifting over the years. It used to be almost a 60-40 office-lab split. And now after Covid, we're seeing that that has actually shifted almost in reverse. It was 50-50 for a while, now it’s 60-40 in favor of lab space. People that don’t use the lab are coming in a few days a week, so you can be creative with the seating process. We’re also seeing a lot of the VC funding kind of demanding that more money gets spent on science and less on amenities. If you're going into a building that's 40% lab and 60% office, you’re going to have to answer an awful lot of questions before you sign that lease.

Most companies now are not able to waste money on real estate the way they used to. Five years ago, even 18 months ago, half your Series A fundraising could go to real estate, and everybody was OK with that.

Bisnow: Lightstone is a much smaller player in life sciences. What is the unique opportunity it has at this moment?

Maciejczak: I've been at some bigger companies and gone through that process here. Changing the way you do things takes a lot longer. At Lightstone, we have six people in the room. You can make a good case and explain why you're doing it and get everybody to buy in. We can make changes and flex with the market more. Whereas the bigger companies, it might take you six months to get everybody to buy in on an idea and then get funding behind it. With the dynamics of the market, you just need to be able to flex and flex quickly. 

Bisnow: When you talk about more value-oriented leasing and developments, is there a specific number you’re trying to hit? 

Maciejczak: There are different levels. It depends on the market. Framingham is a little farther from Boston. It's not necessarily known as a real hub of life sciences. We need to be hitting numbers in the $50s and low $60s. Whereas if we were in Waltham, you might be looking at $79.  

For many startups, a lot of their staff now are living in the suburbs because it's cheaper and they've been kind of being pushed out of the city a little. So the suburbs become more attractive.  

Bisnow: What are the markets or areas or regions that you're targeting that you think are particularly ripe for this type of development approach?

Maciejczak: We don't want to be out in the middle of nowhere. Those are harder to lease, and you still have that transportation aspect of getting the younger staff from the city into your building. Our Westwood location, 690 Canton St., is right by the Amtrak station, so you can take a train from the city. Those are the types of places we’re looking for. 

We’re looking at Research Triangle Park, New York, New Jersey, even Philadelphia. I think we’re mostly East Coast, but we’ll look at the West Coast. Look at Research Triangle Park. Rent there is a rounding error off what you pay in Boston and other places. There's value down there. As the bigger markets continue to grow and people are looking for the lower-cost option, it makes sense.