Needham’s old Muzi dealerships could make way for lab or office ‘headquarters location’

BOSTON, MA – April 12, 2022

By Catherine Carlock, The Boston Globe

The life-science lab market is set to grow again along the Route 128 corridor, with real estate company Bulfinch Cos. planning two office, laboratory and research and development buildings at the former Muzi Ford and Chevrolet auto dealership, service centers and car wash in Needham.

Bulfinch acquired the 9.27-acre site on Highland Avenue late last year for $57.5 million, a Norfolk County deed shows, and has since razed the property. The company this month filed plans with Needham officials to build a three-story building and a five-story building, connected by an atrium and together spanning just under 500,000 square feet.

Both buildings are designed to be adaptable for both laboratory or office uses.

“If the market views this site as a major pharma or life-science facility, we can absolutely meet that demand,” said Bulfinch CEO Eric Schlager. “But conversely, if the market perceives that there are downtown Boston firms, financial services firms or otherwise, that want to create a new, special headquarters location … we have that flexibility to meet that demand as well.”

The proposal follows a rezoning at the Muzi site last year that aimed to block any potential warehouse use at the property, which Bulfinch and others consider the gateway to Needham, at a time when Amazon has been scooping up space around Route 128 for new distribution centers. The Bulfinch proposal would “realize the goals of this re-zoning,” an attorney for the company wrote in an April 5 application to Needham’s planning board.

The proposal also comes as demand for labs and life-science space grows in the region, with more high-profile companies — including Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Boston Properties, and Beacon Capital Partners — developing lab-focused projects in Boston’s suburbs.

Bulfinch, for its part, has experience developing both office and lab, notably with the four-building Cambridge Discovery Park near the Alewife MBTA station. The company had long coveted the Muzi site for its development potential.

“This site has incredible exposure to (Route) 128, as well as the entranceway to Needham off Highland Avenue,” said Bulfinch president Robert Schlager.

Beyond the two buildings connected by an atrium, Bulfinch is planning a multipurpose outdoor trail with exercise areas, as well as outdoor roof decks and ground-level retail and community space. The project would also include two new traffic signals: one at Gould Street and Central Avenue, and another at the project’s entrance.

“Together the proposed R&D, Office, Lab use mixed with Retail use at the corner will create an active gateway condition visible from the public streets,” the April 5 filing states.

The developers plan to meet with the Needham planning board in June, if not earlier, and, once approved, construction could take between 18 to 36 months.