The Boston Wharf Company, a company which began filling tidelands and building wharfs in South Boston in 1836, is negotiating the sale of its entire remaining waterfront real estate portfolio to Tishman Speyer Properties of New York. Over recent years, the BWCo. (owned by UK-based transportation firm P&O) began divesting its major real estate holdings -- including sales to Gillette Corp. and Beacon Capital Partners.


To read news regarding the ongoing consideration of Fort Point for designation as a Historic Landmark District click here.

To read an earlier SAND comment letter on a BWCo. property vis-a-vis master planning, click here.

To read SAND's presentation in the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Fort Point Working Group which considered the BWCo. campus, click here. The Boston Wharf Company's presentation in the Working Group consisted of “100% office space,” with no housing, civic or cultural space in its properties.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/15/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

N.Y.-based firm buys 44 Boston Wharf properties
by Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff

The Boston Wharf Co. is selling a real estate portfolio that constitutes most of the Fort Point Channel to New York-based Tishman Speyer Properties, which owns the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center.

Tishman Speyer, whose local office is run by former Boston Redevelopment Authority director Thomas N. O'Brien, has agreed to purchase for about $500 million all 44 industrial-style buildings Boston Wharf owns along Summer and Congress streets in the Fort Point Channel area. The deal is one of the city's largest ever, and in terms of the number of buildings being sold, no transaction over at least the last two decades matches it, real estate specialists say.

Though the principals in the agreement would not comment, other people involved said the deal was reached over the last few months and signed last week. The sale was negotiated directly between the two companies and, unless there is a snag, is expected to be completed next fall, those involved said.

Tishman Speyer has not indicated what it would do with the properties, which include most of the buildings in a wide area from the Fort Point Channel east to West Service Road, and from Seaport Boulevard south, across Congress and Summer streets, to the Gillette complex along A Street.

Boston Wharf buildings include office, manufacturing, and warehouse space, and are occupied by artists, restaurants, and retail shops. Thomson Financial, with about 300,000 square feet, is the largest single tenant in that area.

"There are some lovely buildings there that are structurally sound," said John E. Drew, president of the World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel. "They need someone to come in who's really committed to their reuse and rebirth, and Tishman could do that."

Tishman Speyer hired Alex Krieger of Chan Krieger & Associates of Cambridge, a leading architectural and planning firm, to develop a master plan for redevelopment of the historic buildings. The city issued a blueprint for development on the South Boston waterfront in 1999, calling for new neighborhoods of residences, commercial, and office space.

The transaction could make O'Brien, after a few years out of the city's real estate spotlight, a prominent player in the transformation of the South Boston waterfront. He was director of the BRA from early 1997 to late 1999, when Mayor Thomas M. Menino demanded his resignation after a controversy developed when O'Brien's chief of staff purchased a subsidized waterfront condominium.

But one person close to both O'Brien and the mayor say Menino no longer holds resentment toward O'Brien and was informed early of the pending sale. O'Brien, who maintained a fairly high profile at the BRA, did not engage in a public fight with Menino following his departure from City Hall. He took the job at Tishman Speyer -- which has developed 52 million square feet of property worldwide -- in 2001 and has had little to say publicly since then.

Boston Wharf, which has owned and managed property in Boston since it began filling in tidelands in 1836, has 2.3 million square feet of space over 15 acres in what are mostly four- to 10-story buildings in the area of South Boston closest to downtown. The company had begun selling off some blocks of buildings or property over the last decade or so. In 2000, Beacon Capital Partners LLC bought two rows of buildings along A Street that it is developing into Channel Center, a $400 million mixed-used project, and Gillette purchased 10 acres of Boston Wharf land near its headquarters.

Tishman Speyer has a worldwide portfolio of property worth about $10 billion and employs about 700 people worldwide. In Boston, the company has owned 125 High St., a 1.5-million-square-foot, three-building office complex, since 1997.

Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, which leases space in a Boston Wharf building, said O'Brien had been spending a lot of time in New York.

"With this acquisition, you'll see him much more engaged in Boston here again," she said. "They'll figure out if they want to keep all those properties and come up with a plan for renovating buildings."

She said it is a good time for a new owner to reconsider the future of the area, citing the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, the city's recently unveiled Fort Point development plan, and next year's planned start-up of the MBTA's Silver Line from South Station to the South Boston waterfront.

But Li lamented the departure of Boston Wharf, one of the city's stalwart companies. "It's an exciting time, but it's sad Boston Wharf won't be here," Li said. "They were so much a part of this city, a strong supporter of business and very civic-minded."

Boston Wharf, which has been run by Robert N. Kenney the last 20 years, is owned by Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., a global shipping and transportation company.

Tishman Speyer also owns Berlin's Sony Center and North Tower in Sao Paulo. It has 17 offices around the world. The company recently developed Tower Place in London, adjacent to the Tower of London; it includes 360,000 square feet of offices and 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Drew said both the company and its Boston office chief were qualified to redevelop such a large part of the city as it expands to the waterfront. "They have the wherewithal," Drew said, "and Tom plainly is a guy who cares deeply about the city."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/15/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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