Breaking // Abbey Group Ties Up Prized Flower ExchangeFebruary 05, 2016
By Joe Clements
BOSTON—Abbey Group, the family run development firm active regionally whose principals are co-owners of the Boston Celtics, is said to be the mystery buyer which has the prized Flower Exchange complex in Boston’s southern flank under agreement, sources are telling therealreporter.com. Tenants of the enduring industrial property near Interstate 93 were told this week they need to vacate 540 Albany St. by year’s end, ramping up a process that has been moving slowly over the past 12 months, and also shrouded in secrecy as to who the prospective buyer is or the exact value of what is essentially a 5.5-acre land play, and one in a transformational neighborhood rapidly taking shape.
Abbey Group founder Robert Epstein was unavailable late Friday afternoon to discuss the matter, while Flower Exchange Inc. board member and attorney Joseph T. Cefalo Jr. tells therealreporter.com he “cannot confirm or deny” the multiple sources now insisting a firm responsIble for some of the city’s most significant real estate projects over the past 30 years has its eyes set on a new pioneering venue in what has traditionally been one of the city’s more neglected districts, an expanse of aging, low-rise industrial buildings but teeming with promise as an abutter to the thriving South End.
Despite the lack of official confirmation, one industry veteran concurred with other indications that the negotiations with Flower Exchange ownership does center around Abbey Group. “That’s solid,” the CRE professional says regarding the rumors, backing others voicing similar confirmations. “I hear it’s Abbey all the way,” one of those conveys of the winning suitor in citing a source interacting with the firm as the information genesis in that instance.
The future of the 75,000-sf exchange that dates to 1971 at its current home has been bandied about media circles since drum beats about a sale first percolated over a year earlier, many articles focused on the legacy of the operation that has been a staple regionally since the 19th century. Unfortunately for the 13 vendors who hoped to remain at the complex, the path of progress continues to march down Massachusetts Avenue from the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods where the lack of opportunities has developers looking for another expansion option.
Those are precisely the sort of ventures Abbey Group has become known for both prior to and now into the new millennium metropolitan boom, having been founded in 1982 by Robert Epstein, his brother David Epstein, and John Svenson. Their most successful endeavors include Landmark Center in the Fenway and Lafayette Corporate Center in Downtown Crossing, both created prior to the rapid runup in values in both of those locations. The firm also patiently watched as its 45 Province high-rise residential condominium in Downtown Crossing survived the recessionary woes that had the district at the start of this decade compared to downtown Beirut, whereas now the entire area has recovered to having million-dollar trades the norm at the Abbey Group’s residential entry.
Now if rumors bear out, the company is embarking on another complicated endeavor which will certainly require an adroit developer able to wend through the myriad of neighborhood issues and permitting challenges, not to mention potential environmental matters related to a long-used industrial expanse. “It is just getting started,” one of those spoken to says regarding the ultimate vision for whatever Abbey might have in mind. On the matter of pricing, a figure of $40 million has been previously cited in media reports, but nothing official has been confirmed in that regard.
Timing-wise, Cefalo told the Boston Globe this week that the deal could be finalized over the next few months. The article did not name anyone as the winning bidder, conveying that matter as an ongoing mystery.