Dr. Gerald Chan Seen Paying $24M for Legacy Harvard Sq. Asset Via HFFDecember 27, 2018 — By Joe Clements
CAMBRIDGE—It appears Dr. Gerald Chan is returning to Harvard Square, a venue where the Asian-born business executive made his mark among Greater Boston real estate titans six years ago this week in acquiring a premier mixed-used asset at 39 JFK St. and followed a few months later landing another building across the street, collectively spending $64.7 million and launching a platform since moving across the Charles River to Boston and out to suburban communities including Belmont, Newton and Wellesley.
Now, Real Reporter sources are indicating the Harvard University alum has emerged as winning bidder of 52 Brattle St., an office/retail amalgam around the corner from JFK Street that HFF is peddling on behalf of a private firm whose family control dates to the mid-1970s. An affiliate of Dr. Chan “has that building tied up, yes,” one informed CRE professional relays in backing other sources indicating such is the case. Pricing for the building whose office space is filled by a group familiar to the investor—alma mater Harvard University—is rumored to approach $24 million, a sphere which would equate to a vigorous $1,350 per sf should that level be attained.
Parties involved in the reported negotiations did not respond to inquiries as of press deadline, including the HFF Capital Markets division handling the assignment involving a 17,750-sf, brick-faced structure dating to 1960 that has two popular retail tenants on the ground level, with Havard University filling the upper two floors. Its solid tenant base is bolstered by what one source declares “a killer location” perched steps from the MBTA Red Line station and where over 30,000 automobiles and pedestrians—two-thirds of them the foot-pedaled ilk—traverse by daily on an endless cycle of activity.
Despite the lack of official affirmation, multiple sources insist Dr. Chan has overcome “fierce” and “stiff” competition to win the deal, descriptions used by market watchers to depict the fast-paced process launched in mid-summer by an experienced team led by HFF Senior Managing Director Coleman Benedict plus Managing Director Christopher Phaneuf and Senior Directors Kerry Hawkins and Benjamin Sayles. Sources say the deal appears it will be an all-cash consideration and is targeted to close in January.
HFF has previously declined to identify the sellers, shown in public records to be Brattle Street 52 LLC. Those records also show the building last changed hands in summer 1977 when it was bought in a major portfolio exchange of six dozen commercial buildings in Boston, Cambridge and several suburban communities. One source claims the Brattle Street asset is the last of that bunch to be divested, although that could not be confirmed.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity . . . and Dr. Chan is taking advantage” of the fleeting availability, one source remarks of the 52 Brattle St. offering.
Since his initial buying spree in Harvard Square began in December 2012, with the inaugural Cambridge deals orchestrated by Boston Realty Advisors and first detailed in Real Reporter, Dr. Chan has bought additional Cambridge assets on top of the broader geographic campaign beyond city limits, at one point tying up the Boston Globe headquarters in Dorchester before talks with owner John Henry faded.
It appears a Dr. Chan affiliate in November paid $3.05 million for 107 Oxford St. in Cambridge, as Cantura LLC bought the three-family building from Aarprop LLC, holder since paying $1.6 million in Sept. 2016. That entity is managed by Alessandro Donnini. The acquired property is a 102-year-old, three-decker with 4,525 sf of space on a 2,800-sf lot in the city’s Porter Square.
An attorney said to represent Dr. Chan did not respond to an inquiry regarding the Brattle Street situation. It is also unclear whether Dr. Chan holds other Harvard Square CRE, an area that has seen a number of so-called “legacy” sales involving properties held for generations by private families and other groups who are increasingly moving to take advantage of record pricing.
It is phenomenon evident in white-hot Cambridge, but the mania for CRE regionally is occurring elsewhere, as played out most recently in the sale of 51 Sleeper St. in Boston’s Seaport District to Brookfield Properties from TIAA where $92 million was needed to reel in that eight-story, 147,000-sf office/retail building harvested by the same HFF contingent handling the 52 Brattle St. exclusive. The Sleeper Street closing earlier this month was revealed first by Real Reporter and was an all-cash consideration as well; it also capped off a busy season for the HFF brokerage firm that apparently has a pending conclusion lined up for next month.Christopher Phaneuf Coleman Benedict Benjamin Sayles Kerry Hawkins