BOSTON-First Marblehead Corp. signed a long-term lease for nearly 98,272 sf in the Park Square Building at 31 St. James Ave. The deal is this year’s largest lease in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood.

The tenant services team of David W. Campbell, executive vice president and partner, and Robert B. Cleary, JR., SIOR, president and co-managing partner of the Codman Co., represented First Marblehead in the transaction, assisted by Peter Farnum, principal, of Trammell Crow Co. Property owner, OMV Associates Limited Partnership was represented by Ogden White, vice president, of CB/Richard Ellis Whittier Partners and John Karnath, managing director, of Capital Properties.

Cleary tells that the deal represents an expansion from a lease that was about to expire and nearly doubled the financial company’s space in the building. Cleary notes that First Marblehead looked at a number of other locations but the familiarity and existing business units of the Park Square Building weighed heavily in its favor.

Ralph M. James, First Marblehead’s president and chief operating officer, notes that the company was looking to have the ability to expand its premises without disrupting “the internal flow” of its various departments and to secure expansion options to accommodate potential future growth.

Cleary did not reveal lease rates but he says that the current transaction involved rates that are lower than the lease that was previously signed by First Marblehead over four years ago. Average asking rent for office space in the area is about $35 per sf. With this deal the building is close to 90% leased.

“The deal is an example of growth in a market where we’re not seeing real growth drivers,” points out Cleary, who adds that this is a tenant who had a lot of options outside the city and chose to remain here. “There are not a lot of examples of that now,” says Cleary. He points out that many of the industries which are responsible for growth in the city are merging and consolidating. “Nationally, Boston is seen as a difficult market,” he says.

Cleary says that the near future of Boston’s office market is unclear. He notes that the impact of Bank of America’s merger with Manulife is yet to be determined but the deal could put hundreds of thousands of sf on the market. “That could have a significant impact,” he says.

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