Natick Mall Going from Labs to Lobs? Owners May Take Shot at PickleballOctober 07, 2023 — By Joe Clements
NATICK — Town planners and landlord Bulfinch Cos. tried bringing a slice of East Cambridge to the Golden Triangle retail corridor, but the shuttered Neiman Marcus store rezoned for labs and life sciences research may go the way of kitschy Route One Saugus amid buzz a former MetroWest health club operator wants to convert the two-story, 94,000-sf building into an indoor pickleball complex and meeting facility with multiple courts feeding an overnight craze.
Should proponent Richard Bosse prevail, the endeavor seemingly could be the largest of its kind nationally, perhaps globally, with Stamford CT taking claim to those titles presently via the 80,000 sf Pickleball America complex that opened this summer. Garnering national media coverage, the Connecticut facility is the brainchild of four longtime friends and sport aficionados, whereas Bosse is the erstwhile owner of a Sudbury health club at 141 Boston Post Rd.—Route 20—he traded to Herb Chambers for placement of a Mercedes dealership, the $10.6 million result in January 2021 well above the $1.6 million Bosse had spent on the now-demolished building on 15.6 acres in April 2002.
Bosse now has another fitness facility with pickleball courts in Boston, advertised on the web as four dedicated courts and a few that are multi-use. A message left on a machine at its phone number was not returned by press deadline, while Bulfinch was also unavailable for comment. Nonetheless, there are indications the scope of a Natick facility would be of a more significant size than Bosse’s prior or current undertakings, and maybe even Stamford.
“That is what I understand,” a Real Reporter source relays of the reported size and complexity being pursued, the status of which is presently cloudy as well. There are a few claims that a letter of intent is in place, and efforts are said to be underway to meet with community members in the coming months, and reports that meetings with municipal officials have “already taken place” by one account seconded by another. None of that has been officially confirmed, though one CRE professional who maintains there is a plan underway notes the move “would be a real diversion” from efforts to bring a life sciences tenant to the building.
Constructed in 2007, the standalone Natick building had been rezoned to accommodate lab and life sciences application and Bulfinch plus partner Harrison Street Capital were targeting tenants to occupy the space when it apparently took a shift into the pickleball direction, sources relay. “They worked countless hours to rezone that thing,” observes the seasoned expert who surmises any shift could say less about pickleball mania and more about a life sciences sector with an over glut of projects proposed or in progress and a desire among landlords to consider alternate visions to pay the rent.
“Everybody was behind that,” laments another market watcher who was among those hoping for a diversity of uses in the retail-centric Golden Triangle that could mean another segment for employment and taxes.
On the other side of the net, however, a retail broker welcomes entertainment-related uses to combat the Internet which helped cause the demise of once thriving Neiman Marcus to begin with, the store originally opening to great fanfare now darkened waiting for another occupant of some level. “That is the big thing,” offers the source, “anything that keeps the lights on . . . or puts them back on, I am sure everyone would love.”