The lab project at the Muzi Ford site in Needham is getting the green light | Daily News Byte

The lab project at the Muzi Ford site in Needham is getting the green light

 | Daily News Byte

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“We have a great opportunity here to redevelop a site that for years has been blighted as a major entry point into town,” said Adam Block, chairman of the Needham Planning Board. “The physical design, the architecture and so on, is obviously a huge improvement.”

Bulfinch bought the 9.27-acre lot, located on Highland Avenue just off Route 128, a year ago for $57.5 million. The real estate development firm now has approval to build 465,000 square feet of lab and offices in two buildings, along with retail and restaurant space. The project includes a above-ground garage with nearly 1,000 spaces and 362 parking spaces under buildings.

Community amenities include a pickleball court that can be exchanged for an ice rink in the winter, along with an exercise path, Block said. The retail space is designed not only for the employees but also for the residents of the area, he said.

Planning Board approval allows Bulfinch to pursue separate building permits and certificates of occupancy for each building, allowing the development to take place in multiple phases.

The old Muzi Ford building in Needham, last year before it was demolished.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

The site was rezoned in 2021 to allow office and lab uses, and to block warehouse uses, at a time when Amazon.com Inc. is acquiring land across the region to expand its just-in-time delivery network, amid growing backlash from towns over the traffic their facilities generate.

The approval comes as demand from the life-science lab market has retreated significantly from 2021 levels amid rising construction costs and a shaky economy. A recent report from real estate brokerage Newmark said about 80 percent of life science lab projects proposed but built could be scaled back.

In fact, at the nearby Riverside MBTA station in Newton, Mark Development and Alexandria Real Estate Equities have paused a planned laboratory and residential project, said Greg Reibman, CEO of the Charles River Regional Chamber. The extended approval process for the Muzi site could result in a missed opportunity to land a life-science tenant, he said.

“The slow wheels of municipal government don’t take economic trends into account,” Reibman said.

It is unclear whether Bulfinch intends to begin construction without a pre-leased tenant. The company declined to comment following the approval. Chief executive Eric Schlager told the Boston Globe in April that the buildings are designed to be flexible for either office or lab use.

“If the market views this site as a major pharma or life-science facility, we can absolutely meet that need,” Schlager said in April. “But conversely, if the market finds that there are companies in downtown Boston, financial services companies or others, that want to create a new, specialized headquarters location … we have the flexibility to meet that need as well.”


Catherine Carlock can be reached at catherine.carlock@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bycathcarlock.



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