Harvard Buys Vacant Tech Center for Allston

Harvard’s burgeoning Allston holdings expanded further last month with the purchase of a 5.2 acre property.

The deal for the vacant Boston Tech Center, located behind the Brighton Mills Shopping Center, closed on December 13 for a $16 million price tag.

The Marshall Field Family Trust, which owns the property under the Cabot, Cabot & Forbes name, first approached Harvard as a potential buyer in fall 2006, according to Field Family spokesman Larry Larsen.

The trust purchased the property and began renovations in 2001, looking at the building as a possible life sciences center, Larsen said.

A number of parties expressed interest in the building, including Target Corp. and the now-bankrupt Globix Corp., but the property has been unoccupied since 2001, Larsen said. The Boston Business Journal reported that a possible $22 million sale of the property to Massachusetts-based Eastern Development LLC fell through earlier this summer, leading the company to contact Harvard.

“We tried looking at a variety of strategic transactions and it emerged that Harvard was indeed the best buyer,” Larsen said.

Although the company is unsure of Harvard’s plans for the building, Larsen labeled the purchase a “smart transaction.”

Others, however, are unsure. Allston Community Task Force member Harry Mattison said he’s worried the building may continue to sit empty. “We’d like to see it used for anything, almost any sort of use is better than vacant building after vacant building,” he said.

According to Boston Redevelopment Authority project manager Gerald Autler, it is questionable whether or not Harvard will have success in filling the space. “The property was available for sale because previous attempts to work with biotech tenants had failed,” Autler said.

“I don’t necessarily think Harvard will be any more successful at attracting those tenants than the previous owners.”

Autler also speculated that Harvard’s price was lower than that of previous bidders.

“I would imagine that Harvard got something of a bargain, if anything, simply because the owners were sitting on a piece of property that was costing them money and none of the attempts that they had made to put it to productive use worked out,” Autler said.

Harvard’s goals for the property are uncertain, but Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall said Harvard is currently “studying options for best uses of the space.”

“We decided to consider this opportunity because of its long-term potential, even though we have no immediate use in mind for the property,” Marshall said.

Although the future of the site is still unclear, Mattison stated that Harvard’s openness in this transaction sets a valuable precedent. “Communication was good,” he said, “and it’s what we’d like to see on all future purchases in the neighborhood.”

—Staff writer Ariadne C. Medler can be reached at amedler@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman contributed to the reporting of this story.