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Can a $25 million renovation by Boston Properties help Waltham's Mount Money find its future?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 1, 2012 10:41 AM

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I used to refer to the prominent hill above the reservoir in Waltham as Mount Money, since so many of our state's venture capital firms were housed in the office buildings there. Entrepreneurs used to ascend the rocky mountain, hoping the funding gods would smile on them.

But that was before many of the VC firms decided to relocate closer to the city: starting in 2009, a half-dozen firms that were once in Waltham and Lexington moved to Boston and Cambridge. (Even a few that have remained in Waltham, like Polaris Venture Partners and Matrix Partners, set up satellite offices in the city.) Most said they wanted to be closer to the action around MIT and Harvard, rather than forcing promising young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg to take $50 cab rides to Mount Money.

bostonprop.jpgSo now the real estate firm that owns the Bay Colony Center, a four-building, 1 million square foot complex atop the former Mount Money, is planning to spend north of $25 million to make it more attractive to tech companies, law firms, consultancies, and other tenants. It's a risky bet on the 'burbs, given how much energy there is right now around Kendall Square and Boston's Innovation District. But Bay Colony's new owner, Boston Properties, bought the complex for a song in 2010 (Boston Properties paid $185 million, most of it in assumed debt, just three years after Bay Colony had sold for $366 million.) And the giant REIT has the benefit of learning about new kinds of collaborative workplaces from local tenants like Google, Microsoft, Biogen, and the Broad Institute.

"We are obsessed with the revolution in how people work, and we're trying to redesign this complex to meet the needs of the knowledge worker," says Brian Koop, Boston Properties' regional manager in Massachusetts. (Koop is on the right in the photo, with leasing VP Jason Fivek on the left.) "If you are a company that is chasing those A players, and wants to retain them, you can't be in some B minus property."

Here's what's going on...

Fivek says that the complex was 55-60 percent occupied when Boston Properties bought it; those numbers have improved a bit, to 65-70 percent occupancy. Rents are comparable to other "Class A" space in Waltham, he says: in the low-to-mid 30s a square foot. Boston Properties has been working with the architecture firm Gensler on the renovation. Their flagship new tenant thus far is Verivo Software, which helps clients build and deploy mobile apps. (Verivo moved to Bay Colony from another Boston Properties-owned building in Waltham.) Verivo has about 40,000 square feet in one building at Bay Colony.

The Bay Colony complex was built in the 1980s, and most of the buildings look like elegant brick bunkers:

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Boston Properties has updated the facade on one of the four buildings in the complex (1100 Winter Street) — the one that had the most vacancies.

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Updated dining area at 1000 Winter Street. The café is run by Sebastians.

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A renovated outdoor patio area has benches, tables, a firepit, and a pretty sweet view of the Cambridge Reservoir below.

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These wooden "bleachers" are part of a common area that any company can use for team meetings.

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The backdrop of that bleacher amphitheater is a wall of windows looking out onto the patio and reservoir.

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One of the new common seating areas, which can be used for informal chats. (The TVs were all tuned to the Olympics, of course.)

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In Verivo's offices, a cool semi-open conference area with whiteboard walls.

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A kitchen/dining area in Verivo's offices. The company also just finished construction of an adjacent outdoor deck.

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Cubicles in Verivo's sales department. Yes, even in the workplace of the future, there are still cubes (though the walls are lower, and there's a nifty cushion so colleagues can sit down for a quick tête-à-tête.)

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What do you think? Is the Bay Colony re-do enough to help Mount Money regain its mojo? Can twenty-something workers be lured to the 'burbs, or do you think they're wedded to the city? Does this look better or worse than the office (and office complex) you work in?

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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