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WOBURN, MA-Vincent O’Neill says he has not only learned to look inside and outside of boxes when mulling commercial real estate prospects, but “around” them as well, a philosophy that put him on the roof of 78 Dragon Court last spring espying the surroundings. “It’s a quick, simple way to judge a building,” insists the founder of VinCo Properties, crediting brotherly advice from prolific Philadelphia developer Brian O’Neill for making the four-story ascent.

The 360-degree vista that has matriculated to VinCo’s leasing campaign for 75,000 sf of office space begins with Interstate 93 flanking 78 Dragon Court’s backyard and an on-ramp to that highway a few blocks north. Adjacent to the ramp is a new commuter train stop connecting to Boston, Lowell and Portland, ME, while a gauntlet of retail, restaurants and divergent hotel options runs southward to the critical juncture of Interstates 93 and 95.

“You can’t beat the amenities in Woburn,” insists O’Neill, perhaps one reason the city 10 miles north of Boston is staging a resurgence after being hit hard by the recession that gripped the Bay State beginning in 2001. “It has become one of the most consistent, steadily recovering markets in Greater Boston,” says Richards Barry Joyce & Partners Research Director Brendan Carroll, who puts Woburn’s vacancy at 13.6% and says the market of 3.5 million sf has registered positive absorption for seven straight quarters. The vacancy is down sharply from the peak of 40.5% in mid-2003, he notes. “That’s a dramatic change by any measure,” Carroll says.

“Woburn is chugging along right now,” concurs Cushman & Wakefield broker David Pergola, estimating that rents have increased 10% to 15% since last year. The Unicorn Office Park has filled more than 100,000 sf during the past three quarters, including a lingering 27,000-sf vacancy in Building 500. Pergola would not discuss specific rates at Unicorn given his role negotiating the deals on behalf of the landlord, Rreef, but brokers say the class A park fronting I-93 has achieved deals in the mid-$20 per sf, on the upper end for that area of Route 128.

The amenities, access and a resurgent economy are all factors in Woburn’s recovery, says Meredith & Grew senior vice president Matthew Daniels, who introduced VinCo to the 78 Dragon Court opportunity and has just been named leasing agent along with M&G colleagues Joseph Crowley and Michael Zieja. The difficulties faced by Woburn after the technology downturn have been supplanted by activity that only promises to get more intense, says Daniels, given that many firms who sat on the sidelines are now facing lease expirations.

“A lot of them are now making their moves–they really have no choice,” says Daniels, who maintains that lease rates in the mid-$15 per sf at 78 Dragon Court should attract budget-conscious tenants who have been vacillating. “We have a big block of contiguous space,” adds Daniels, with the fortress-like property able to accommodate a tenant requiring upwards of 40,000 sf, but also is sub dividable to as little as 2,000 sf.

“That’s not always the case,” says O’Neill, who also cites a parking ratio of nearly five cars per 1,000-sf leased as another reason for confidence that prospects will be attracted to the property.

An aging behemoth tucked off the arterial Commerce Way in an industrially dominated section of Woburn, 78 Dragon Court will require a measure of “love and hustle” for its revival to become a reality, acknowledges O’Neill, but he also opines that the quality construction of the 27-year-old building makes it a hidden gem in the gritty neighborhood. Built for WR Grace Corp. at a time when Woburn had virtually no office market, or accompanying services, the property had three floors of offices but the top floor was used as hotel rooms for visiting clients and company officials. As a bonus to those people, WR Grace put in a 3,200-sf courtyard that O’Neill says will be utilized as part of the architectural renovation.

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