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BOSTON-In a deal that may foreshadow a thaw in the frigid metro office market, Boston Medical Center HealthNet Plan has taken 101,000 sf at Copley Place. BMCHP, which will be relocating in stages from the Boston Design Center between February and June, signed a 10-year lease agreement. The space will be used solely for administrative purposes.

“We’re relocating from the Design Center because we’ve outgrown the space,” Ellen Daley, director of federal, state and local programs for the Boston Medical Center, tells GlobeSt.com. “The relocation allows us to pick up additional space at a very affordable price in close proximity to the hospital.”

Richard Lundgren, senior vice president, and Steve James, executive vice president and principal at NAI Hunneman, represented BMCHP. Ogden White, vice president and partner, and Bill Crean, assistant vice president, of CB Richard Ellis, represented the owner, Simon Property Group Inc.

The deal rockets the 239,744-sf Copley Place occupancy rate from 66% to a near capacity 96%. It also marks the first deal to exceed the magical 100,000-sf line this quarter in the metro office space market, which had seen the vacancy rate climb to a record 19.8% in the third quarter of this year. There were only three deals that exceeded 100,000 sf in that quarter, according to a report by Spaulding and Slye Colliers, and two of them were renewals. Whether or not the Copley Place transaction portends a flurry of deals remains to be seen, but some brokers are optimistic.

“There’s good velocity in the market right now,” William P. Barrack, principal at Spaulding, tells GlobeSt.com, “because there are a lot of tenants looking, and we lost close to a million sf to residential conversion in the last year. There are three or four major tenants whose leases are going to be up, and they’re looking for space in 2006 or 2007. I think we’re poised for a recovery in 2006.”

Some brokers feel that recovery in the market may come even quicker. “There are a couple of [large] transactions that are at the committee level,” Robert B. Cleary Jr., president of the Codman Co., says. “I don’t know if they’re going to happen before year end, but we’re likely to see some activity in the first quarter.” Cleary, like most, believes that when the local economy improves, the office market will follow.

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